Early one morning, residents sleeping at a hostel in Koppal, India awoke to the sound of a crying baby. When the crying persisted, a group was able to track down the source of the commotion — an abandoned two-day-old baby with a cleft lip and palate.
They knew that they needed to help the severely malnourished child, so they started calling local government offices and charities. After several failed attempts, the dying child was rushed to local Smile Train partner SDM Medical College. There the baby’s caretakers received counseling on special feeding techniques for children with clefts as well as medicine to keep the baby healthy. It was that day Saraswati was named after a Hindu goddess with healing and purifying powers.
After months of hard work, Saraswati became healthy enough for her Smile Train sponsored free cleft lip surgery. Then, several months later, she received her cleft palate surgery.
Recently, a couple looking to adopt a child met Saraswati. They fell in love with her and said that she had the perfect smile. The baby who was previously abandoned and left for dead now has a fresh start and a second chance at life with her new parents.
On April 24, 2015 Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Columbia South Carolina held its 9th Mini-Marathon for Smile Train. Physical Education teacher and real-world Smile Train super hero Thomas Cronin, who was born with a cleft lip and palate, hosts the event every year. He says that he feels so fortunate that he was able to receive surgery when he was a child, and his hope is that every child born with a cleft is able to have the same opportunities for a healthy and productive life that he was given.
On the day of the event each grade level (Kindergarten through Fifth grade) runs and walks for 30 minutes on the school’s outdoor track. This year, the event raised a total of $13,090 for Smile Train. This is enough to provide surgery for 52 children with cleft lips and palates.
Smile Train’s Mini Marathon has become a tradition at Pleasant Hill Elementary School. This year, Smile Train’s own Director, Program Development, Shannon Lambert, got to attend the event, walk around the track with some students, and answer student questions. She said some of the most common questions were “How many surgeries did Smile Train help provide last year?” and “How long does it take to complete a surgery?” One student, a young boy, shared a story with Shannon about his cousin that lives in Guadalajara, Mexico who was born with a cleft. His cousin didn’t have transportation to get to a treatment facility, so the little boy’s family in South Carolina drove to Mexico to bring the boy to the hospital for surgery.
Overall, Pleasant Hill Elementary School’s Smile Train Mini Marathon gives the students a chance to learn more about a meaningful cause, and how something as simple as a smile can change a life, all while getting fit at the same time.
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.
In his own words Smile Train supporter, Blake Haugland explains what motivates him to fundraise for Smile Train.
No matter how you look at it, an athlete competing in a triathlon is competing for their own personal satisfaction and that’s a great thing, but race after race I started feeling like I wanted to cross the finish line for more than myself or a new “PR”. That’s when I found Smile Train. Knowing that I could use my triathlon races and connections in NASCAR to help change a child’s life was the perfect way for my wife Melissa and myself to do this.
Through my coaching business LIMITLESS MULTISPORT TRAINING I have been able to donate a percentage of my earnings toward our Smile Train goal which is awesome because it’s a way my athletes can help raise money and train! Another amazing tool I have been able to use has been offering lug nuts from our pit stops to race fans for a donation. We have thousands of fans who tour pit road prior to the race start and they are able to come by our pit stall and hang out and grab an authentic lug nut from the prior week’s race. In the past we used to literally leave these used lug nuts on the ground or they would get thrown in the trash but now they are being turned into smiles!
I know sometimes it can be financially difficult for people to donate money but if you can incorporate it into a purchase they are already planning on making you can hit a home run every time! I want to thank Michael Waltrip Racing and NASCAR for the opportunity to make these children have a better quality of life. See you at the track!
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.
Sichuan Province, China – The arrival of a new baby typically brings a lot of happiness to a family, but when little Jiaxin was born with a cleft lip and palate the Yangs knew they wouldn’t be able to afford surgery for their child. To get Jiaxin the help she needed the family moved to Chengdu in hopes that the city would have better medical facilities.
To survive in their new city, Jiaxin’s father worked doing manual labor at a construction site, and her grandmother and grandfather worked long hours every day to make extra money for the family. All of the hard work was worth it when the Yangs found out that Smile Train’s local partner hospital, West China College of Stomatology Sichuan University, would be able to give Jiaxin the help she needed.
Jiaxin, with the help of Smile Train, began her journey to a new smile with free cleft lip surgery. Since her surgery, Jiaxin’s family said they now have a new sense of hope and a more positive attitude in their own lives.
Today, 2-year-old Jiaxin is a lovely and lively girl who loves to laugh and talk.
In March 2015, Jiaxin met Smile Train’s CEO, Susannah Schaefer, along with Shi Bing, Vice President of West China Stomatology Hospital of Sichuan University, and Dr. Shell Xue, Senior Vice President and Regional Director of Smile Train North Asia. Susannah was in China supporting the local nurses at a special training conference. Susannah’s advice to little Jiaxin was to continue to have the confidence to overcome difficulties and to embrace her new life.
Jiaxin’s mother is very grateful to Smile Train for giving Jiaxin the ability to be like the other children, and a second chance at life. She said that Smile Train not only gave them financial help, but also brought hope to them and an opportunity for a brighter future.
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.