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.

Smile Train Participates in the First Ever Global Surgery Congressional Briefing

Briefing

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.

Never Too Late to Follow Your Dreams

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Sannidhanandan was born in a rural area of India with a cleft lip and palate. By the early age of six-years-old, Sannidhanandan found his calling and decided he was going to be a famous singer. His teachers and family encouraged him to keep practicing even though his singing voice was nasally due to his unrepaired cleft lip and palate.

In 2001, when he was 21 years old, a friend of his read about cleft surgeries performed by a doctor in Mangalore. Soon after the two traveled to Mangalore and Sannidhanandan was finally able to receive his new smile.

After his surgery, Sannidhanandan became confident enough to sing in public and he began pursuing his dream of being a famous singer. After training in classical music for years he decided to participate in one of India’s most popular singing competitions, “Asianet Idea Star Singer 2007”. With his sheer determination and willpower, Sannidhanandan quickly became a fan favorite and finished in the top 10!

Today Sannidhanandan has achieved his dream and is a very popular singer. He feels that he has been blessed with immense talent and wanted to put his popularity to good use. Recently he visited local Indian Smile Train partner Jubilee Mission Hospital and gave the parents of the cleft children words of encouragement. He shared his story of how he achieved his dreams late in his life after his cleft surgery, and he told them that they should never discourage their children from having big dreams.

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Bere’s Story: No Need For Silence

Javier Campuzano Bere was born in Hidalgo Mexico with a cleft lip and palate. Bere’s mother, Domitila said that Bere had several cleft related medical problems, but despite them, she was a happy little girl.

When Bere got older she was excited to start her first day of school. However, when she got there the other kids made fun of her and started to call her names. When she returned home after her first day, Bere told her mother she never wanted to go back to school again. Bere became ashamed to talk at school because her schoolmates would come and look at her mouth and stare. So Bere gave up speaking at school altogether, and until her mom would pick her up at the end of the day she would just sit in a chair saying nothing.

Fortunately, Domitila found out about Smile Train, and was relieved to find that they would give Bere free surgery, she could not afford, to fix her cleft lip and palate. After the surgery her mother was so pleased and they both decided they would give school a second chance. A few weeks after the surgery, Bere was back in school and the other children were happy to see her.

Now Bere is doing great, she has many friends, and is much more talkative and outgoing. Her mother says, before Bere’s surgery she would never draw faces with a mouth, but now she loves drawing them and now the mouths always have a smile. Javier Campuzano

New Smile, New Life in America: Poppy’s Story

Poppy and her father and siblings.

Poppy and her father and siblings.

Several months ago Smile Train supporter, Kristina Lu, adopted her daughter, Poppy, from China. Poppy was born with a cleft palate, but thanks to Smile Train was able to receive free surgery. In her own words Kristina shares her story.

My husband read about Smile Train from the chapter in FreakonomicsTM soon after the book came out.  We liked the way they ran their charity and we became donors for several years. We liked how Smile Train helps teach local doctors how to repair clefts instead of just flying in, doing some surgeries, and then heading home.  It’s the whole “teach a man to fish” philosophy.

In 2013, we decided to add a third child to our family via adoption from China. We decided to adopt from China because my husband is an American of Chinese ethnicity.  We thought that a child adopted from China would blend in well with our biracial family. We also knew we wanted to adopt a special needs child.  Although we were open to different types of special needs, we were most comfortable with adopting a child with cleft lip/palate – some of our comfort coming from knowing about Smile Train and your mission.

We were matched by our adoption agency with our daughter Poppy, who lived in Pingliang, Gansu, China.  After we came home with Poppy in June 2014, Smile Train was extremely helpful in providing us with the medical records that they had on her.

Poppy is doing really well now!  She’s been home 6 months and it’s as if she’s always been a part of our family.  She is best friends with her older sister and she adores her older brother.  She’s loving gymnastics class and she enjoys singing and dancing at home.  She loves playing with her (and her siblings’) Legos. She was very excited to dress up as Princess Anna from Frozen for Halloween this year.  She tells everyone that will listen that she was Anna.

In the age of Facebook and social media, we were able to find Poppy’s connection with Smile Train and Love Without Boundaries.  We were also able to connect with the parents of one of Poppy’s best friends in the orphanage (who also had her cleft surgery through Smile Train in Kunming at the same time) through Facebook.  Her friend was adopted by a family in St. Louis.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we visited my family in Illinois and we were able to make a side-trip to St. Louis to have dinner with her friend and her family.  At first, they were a little unsure of each other, then they took off like no time had passed since they had been together in Pingliang 6 months earlier.

We found it very touching to see that an organization that we learned about more than a decade ago has directly benefitted our daughter.  Thank you Smile Train for helping Poppy and all the children that you affect.

Poppy and Leslie at the orphanage in China.

Poppy and Leslie at the orphanage in China.

Poppy and Leslie in St. Louis.

Poppy and Leslie in St. Louis.

When Baba Smiles His Parents’ Hearts Lift With Joy

Baba TBT story

Mumbai, India—The Argaonkar family was shocked and depressed when they discovered their child would be born with a cleft lip for they knew they could not afford the operation. However, the father remembered reading about Pinki Sonkar, a Smile Train patient who is the subject of Smile Train’s Oscar®–winning documentary Smile Pinki. He had read about her trip to London in July 2013 when Pinki was chosen to perform the coin toss at the Gentlemen’s Singles final, Wimbledon .

Their son Baba, one year after the free surgery provided by Smile Train, is now a beautiful boy who brings happiness to his parents’ hearts. Dr Bharti Khandekar and the Godrej Memorial Hospital are to thank for their hard work and dedication. Thanks to the partnership between the Indiabulls Foundation and Smile Train, another young life has been restored with hope.

Argaonkar Family Pic

A Change of Heart

Six-year-old Harouna from Niger, before and after his Smile Train surgery that not only transformed his life, but his father's as well.

Six-year-old Harouna from Niger, before and after his Smile Train surgery that not only transformed his life, but his father’s as well.

Bouza, Niger—Harouna Mahamadou is a beautiful six-year-old boy from Niger who is a patient at Smile Train’s partner hospital, CURE Children’s Hospital of Niger.

When Harouna was born his father, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim, was disappointed with both his wife and son as Harouna was the only child out of nine to be born with a cleft. Mahamadou was so upset he left his family for another woman. Unfortunately soon after, Mahamadou was in a terrible accident and was bedridden for eight months. During this time his new wife left him claiming she would rather be a divorcee than a widow.

Feeling rejected, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim began to realize how his son must have felt for being ostracized for something he could not control. After apologizing to his wife and son, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim slowly regained his strength and soon after, learned about Smile Train. Harouna soon underwent a cleft operation with the love and support from his entire family.

The Mahamadou family has undergone a transformation in spirit. Now grateful for his family and son, Mahamadou Abdoul-Rahim told Smile Train, “What you are doing is the work of God, because you are taking care of people who really need help and who have no one else to help them.”