Grainne McElhone : Power of a Smile

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Grainne McElhone, a former cleft patient, donated her 30th birthday to Smile Train. We recently had the chance to ask her some questions.

How did you become involved with Smile Train and why? 

A few years ago I spoke to a doctor who happened to be a Smile Train supporter. Up until that point, I didn’t know much about Smile Train so I did some research and decided I wanted to help This was when I came up with the idea of a sponsored birthday… my 30th was coming up and I thought it would be the best way to celebrate it!

What motivates you to keep supporting Smile Train? 

Following my research into the charity, it made me appreciate how lucky and fortunate I was to receive the care that I did. It made me realise that many children and adults in developing countries may not get the opportunity to have their clefts repaired without the support of Smile Train.

How did you support Smile Train?

To celebrate my 30th birthday this year I held a coffee morning in lieu of gifts from friends and family. I asked them for a donation to Smile Train, in which I was able to raise over £1,900, an amount I was overwhelmed with and could not have reached without a lot of help from my family and friends.

What makes you Smile? 

Friends and family always make me smile and laugh, going for cocktails, new clothes and random acts of kindness. Receiving and giving always wins a smile!

Why do you give to Smile Train?

To give someone else the smile that I was lucky enough to get.

Mamta Carrol Power Of A Smile

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Mamta Carrol, Regional Director of South Asia Programs talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her. 

What first inspired you to work with / support Smile Train?

The transformational nature of what Smile Train does, the scale, intensity and range of its work and the enduring impact it makes in individual lives, the lives of entire families and the attitudes of communities, is unmatched. In the developing world societal prejudices driven by superstitions and entrenched attitudes prevent children with clefts and their families from leading normal lives. My work at Smile Train allows me to make a very tangible and real impact on ground.

How has your involvement with Smile Train made you look at the Power Of A Smile differently?

A smile is instinctive, natural and effortless for almost everyone. Each smile reminds me of the many who have trouble smiling, the magnitude of what we have accomplished and have yet to accomplish. The most fulfilling smile is the smile of our patients after surgery. It radiates the possibilities that our work opens up for these children.

What keeps you involved in Smile Train?

The sheer significance and impact of what Smile Train does makes me feel blessed in contributing – this is a life-changing gift for entire families. It has imbued me with a passion to transform lives. It has gone beyond the definition of a job to become my mission. An article of faith with a higher and more enduring goal in life. Far more enriching than a conventional corporate career and far more satisfying.

Smile Train Participates in the First Ever Global Surgery Congressional Briefing

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In her own words Erin Stieber, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Smile Train, details her experience participating in a recent Congressional Briefing.

On Wednesday, February 4, I was honored to represent Smile Train on Capitol Hill for the first ever Congressional Briefing on Global Surgery. The event was sponsored by the Congressional Global Health Caucus, US Represenattives Dave Reichert and Betty McCollum, ReSurge International and the G4 Alliance.

An estimated 170,000 babies are born each year in the developing world with cleft lip and palate, a surgically repairable facial deformity. Without surgery, these children will often be denied the chance to go to school, get married or contribute to their communities, and may even be abandoned or die. An estimated 2 billion people lack access to basic surgical care, and many children with clefts are among them. The briefing gave Smile Train the opportunity to speak about this important issue alongside other speakers from ReSurge International, Stanford University, JHPIEGO, and the American College of Surgeons, among others.

I presented on Smile Train’s sustainable model as one example of a successful “solution” to the challenge of reaching neglected surgical patients around the world. Through our partnership with local medical professionals in their own communities and investment in empowerment, technology, and training initatives, Smile Train has reached more than one million patients with life changing surgery in just 15 years, and has made great strides in addressing the lack of access to essential surgical care for cleft lip and palate.

World Kindness Day Story

Lisbeth before surgery, 6 months old

Lisbeth before surgery, 6 months old

Two years ago, Lynn Macaulay was volunteering in El Salvador when she met a young couple whose daughter, Lisbeth, was born with a cleft lip and palate. Lisbeth’s parents couldn’t afford cleft surgery, or any of the other related medical expenses. Lynn decided to take action and find a way to get young Lisbeth the surgery she needed.

After raising money in her community, Lynn reached out to the local government and nonprofits who suggested that she contact Smile Train. Smile Train’s Regional Manager of the Americas, Pam Sheeran, explained that Smile Train works with local cleft teams around the world and provides them with grants so that families like Lisbeth’s don’t have to pay for such care.

Lynn was thrilled to hear that baby Lisbeth would be able to receive the surgery, and she insisted that she donate the amount needed to cover the costs of Lisbeth’s surgery, and help others in the area. Thanks to Lynn’s generosity, and desire to help, Lisbeth is now a happy and healthy two-year-old. She has had both her surgeries and now is able to properly eat solid food, and of course, smile.

Lisbeth after surgery, 2 years old

Lisbeth after surgery, 2 years old

Xinrui’s Smile is so Bright it Lights Up the Holidays

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Beijing, China—Xinrui is a two-year-old girl from Bei Gao Li Village, a rural part of China’s Hebei province. When you see her bright smile today you would never know that she was born with both a cleft lip and palate.

Thanks to the generous support of Smile Train donors and the doctors of Beijing Stomatological Hospital, Xinrui received her free Smile Train cleft lip surgery when she was just three months old and her palate surgery shortly after at 16 months. Because she received cleft surgery so early in life she will never know the teasing or difficulties eating and speaking that so many other children born with clefts face.

Today Xinrui is a cheerful and smart little girl. Although she’s only two years old, she has already become a small leader amongst her friends. Her cleverness has made her a favorite among the adults in her community as well. When little Xinrui visits their houses to play they call it “the happy hour.”

Xinrui lives a happy life with love and care from all of her family and friends.

Cleft Surgery Finds Akhtar

Mohammed Akhtar, left, waves good bye with his father and brothers to the staff from Smile Train partner hospital Bakhtawar Amin Memorial Trust Hospital after their visit to his home.

Mohammed Akhtar, left, waves good bye with his father and brothers to the staff from Smile Train partner hospital Bakhtawar Amin Memorial Trust Hospital after their visit to his home.

Multan, Pakistan—Mohammad Akhtar is a 15-year-old boy who grew up with both a cleft lip and palate. His family lives in a remote area of Pakistan known as Jungle Maryala. This area so isolated that in order to get to the nearest city, Multan, 22 kilometers away, one must either travel by foot or animal-pulled carts—there are no proper roads available to get there.

Mohammad Akhtar, 15, before his cleft lip and palate surgery.

Mohammad Akhtar, 15, before his cleft lip and palate surgery.


Both Aktar’s mother and father are illiterate and had very little awareness about the treatment of cleft lip and palate. Furthermore, as a carpenter, Akhtar’s father was barely able to provide for his wife and eight children, with Akhtar being the only born with a cleft. Due to the family’s poverty, his parents were helpless to address their son’s cleft lip and palate. Akhtar’s mother said that she and her husband worried about Akhtar so much that “they gave him more attention than the other siblings because all others were leading a normal and healthy life.”

One day, a neighbor of Akhtar’s, who often visited Multan, read a billboard advertising Bakhtawar Amin Memorial Trust Hospital’s Smile Train program, providing free cleft lip and palate surgery to patients in need. The hospital was also located in Multan. When he returned home, the neighbor immediately told Akhtar’s father about the treatment. While he was overjoyed to hear about the free treatment as he could not bear the expense of surgery himself, unfortunately Akhtar’s father could also not afford the expense of travel to the hospital. His neighbor then offered provide the father with the carriage he usually used to visit the city.

Akhtar, along with his parents, arrived at the hospital on June 10, 2013 and were welcomed warmly by the staff of the hospital. After the initial checkup, Akhtar was scheduled for surgery two days later. After a successful cleft lip and palate surgery by Dr. Amir Hanif, Akhtar and was discharged on June 15th and returned home.

The team at Bakhtawar Amin visited Akhtar and his family at his home in Jungle Maryala to see Akhtar’s progress since the surgery. His father commented, “Akhtar, having cleft lip and palate problems, was living a very difficult life with an inferiority complex because not only his peer group, but also his siblings, made fun of him.”

The parents were very happy and were thankful to Smile Train as well as Bakhtawar Amin for helping their son when they could not.

Patricio’s Second Chance

Patricio, seen here at two years of age, had his cleft repaired at Smile Train partner hospital Centro Estatal de Atencion para Labio y Paladar Hendido de Aguascalientes a year ago.

Patricio, seen here at two years of age, had his cleft lip repaired at Smile Train partner hospital Centro Estatal de Atencion para Labio y Paladar Hendido de Aguascalientes a year ago. His cleft palate will be repaired shortly.

Morelos, Mexico — Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that you are a 33-year-old mother of seven children living in a remote village in Mexico. In order to support your family, your husband has left to work abroad and you must work many jobs from gathering soil for potted plants to collecting edible cacti. On a good day, you make about three dollars doing these things. Also, your youngest child, Patricio, who your husband has not yet met, was born with a cleft lip and palate.

Patricio before surgery.

Patricio before surgery.

This is the reality of Smile Train patient Patricio’s mother, Leonor. When her youngest son was born, she desperately wanted to get him the help he needed, but could not afford to sacrifice what it would take to get to the nearest Smile Train partner hospital one and a half hours away. How would she pay for the trip? How would she make up the lost wages? Leonor sadly determined that Patricio’s treatment would have to wait.

Luckily, Smile Train partner, Centro Estatal de Atencion para Labio y Paladar Hendido de Aguascalientes, heard about Patricio and Leonor and sent one of their social workers to them. They helped provide nutritional support for Patricio to get him strong enough for surgery, and helped with transportation to and from the hospital. Because Leonor still needed to work each day to support her family, Patricio’s eldest sister, 16-year-old Veronica, accompanied him for his surgery and follow-up visits.

Patricio now will have surgery to close his cleft palate and then possibly speech therapy after. At each visit, the the team assures Veronica that neither she nor her mother have to worry about the cost. All the consultations, surgeries, and therapies are free of cost for her little brother thanks to Smile Train.

Leonor, Patricio's mother, poses in front of her home where she along with her seven children live.

Leonor, Patricio’s mother, poses in front of her home where she lives with her seven children.

Patricio and his older sister Veronica who helps with her brother's care while her mother works.

Patricio and his older sister Veronica who helps with her brother’s care while her mother works.