Two Generations of Uncertainty

When Lackson Koliesa was born, his mother Joyce was devastated when she saw that he had a cleft lip. Joyce learned from an early age how kids and adults treated people who look differently and she knew the suffering that lay ahead for her sweet boy.

Joyce was from a large family, including an uncle with a cleft lip. “My uncle had a cleft lip and was called an “ogre” by people in the village. When we walked down the streets kids used to scatter whenever they saw him, they all had their harrowing theories on why he had a cleft lip,” Joyce recalls.Luckson Koliesa Joyce tried as best as she could to get her son’s cleft lip fixed. But her hopes dwindled as time went on. She couldn’t afford paying for a reparative surgery for her son and she thought Lackson was in store for the same future as her uncle.

When she learned of Smile Train and the free surgeries local Smile Train surgeons help provide, she finally found her answer. She embarked on a four hour long journey from her town in Solwezi to Ndola. Joyce was filled with uncertainty the entire trip, wondering if her son would receive the free surgery. When Joyce and Lackson arrived in Ndola little Lackson was screened and cleared for surgery.

It frightened Joyce to send her baby into surgery, but when he emerged from the operating room less than an hour later, she knew she’d made the right decision. Lackson will never have to suffer the way her uncle did.

“You are my heroes” she says, “Smile Train gave my son a bright future.”

Luckson Koliesa (4)

Bringing Smiles & Hope to Yemen

Since 2011, Yemen has been in a state of fiscal, political and humanitarian crisis. The country has struggled with poverty, terrorism, unemployment, and government corruption. Although the people in Yemen have been facing many challenges, Smile Train does its best to help provide smiles in a place where smiles may be hard to find.SAM_9597_resized

Many hospitals in Yemen, like other developing countries, can’t afford the rising costs of lab tests, medicines, and room rent. Some hospitals can’t afford to pay their surgeons and anesthesiologists. To keep up with demand, patients and their families can be discharged after a few hours. This can be problematic and even dangerous for patients who have traveled a long way from home and now have to desperately look for shelter in an expensive city.

However; children with unrepaired clefts in Yemen have hope. Thanks in part to the support from a generous local donor, a Smile Logistics Centre in Hadda, Sana was launched. Now even patients from the most remote regions of the country are able to travel to the Sana Centre. In the first four days of opening Smile Train’s local partner surgeon was able to help twenty-nine children.

The gracious donor has even gone a step further by helping to sponsor surgeries in the remote Indian Ocean island of Socotra. Socotra Island is one of the most remote places in the entire world. Health care on the island is extremely scarce, and therefore Socotra Hospital has become essential for the people living there.

The goals for the Smile Logistics Centre are to target the poorer and more distant regions of the country and to help at least one thousand cleft children receive new smiles. Smile Train ads play on the radio and pamphlets with the Centre’s information have been helping to spread awareness across the country.

SAM_0689

Welcome Home Zachary: An Adoption Story

Zach dolphin

Allison, mother of Zachary, a Smile Train cleft patient, tells us in her own words how much his surgery has impacted both of their lives.

This month, Zachary is turning FIVE! As it was certainly a miracle for him to make it to five days, much less five weeks, this is a momentous occasion.

Zachary is from the foothills of the Amhara highlands and was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As with so many children born with clefts around the world, his family’s reaction was to consider him as part of a curse, particularly as his was a severe, bilateral cleft lip and palate. Between such cultural views, a lack of medical care, and wide-scale poverty in Ethiopia, it is estimated that over 90% of babies with cleft lip and palate in that country do not survive.

Luckily, after a rough first week of life, some neighbors told Zachary’s birth mother about a non-profit hospital across the city that could help kids like him. Soon after, he was enrolled with Smile Train. The hospital cleft program set him up with squeeze-bottles for feeding, and with a formula program, so he could catch up on some much-needed nutrition. These measures saved his life.

While every effort is made to keep cleft children with their families, in Zachary’s case that was not an option. I had been living in Addis Ababa for several years, and was teaching at the American school there, when I first heard about Zachary. His doctors knew that I had completed a local adoption the previous year, and I was asked to share some information on the process.  Long story short, after all other doors closed, I happily agreed to adopt him. I brought him home just after his first lip repair surgery, and stayed with him in the Ethiopian hospital for his next two surgeries, as well.Tekola 13_5_10 #2

Now, Zachary is a happy, healthy, creative, energetic, and curious five-year-old. He and his older brother are the best of friends, and together we have all had some great adventures. He loves to hike, swim, sing, and entertain those around him…..he definitely makes full use of his great smile!

We have spent the past two years on the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten, where I am attending medical school. I am looking forward to being able to help kids like Zachary in the future.

As we celebrate Zachary this month, truly a “one in a million” kind of kid, we are grateful for Smile Train and all of those who have made his health and surgeries possible. As we say in Ethiopia, “Betam Amesegenalehu!”

From the hospital where Zachary received his Smile Train surgery;

“CURE International’s partnership with Smile Train has allowed CURE hospitals to have an even greater impact on children in the countries we serve. In Ethiopia alone, we have performed over 1,100 cleft surgeries, restoring the smiles of children and families that were once considered outcasts in their own families and communities. Stories of restoration and healing, like Zachary’s, drive home the need to make our organizations’ mutual focus on surgery a global health priority.”

DSCF7574

Vets with Horsepower, an inspirational group of fundraisers!

VwHP_Pic1

After a 4,000 mile motorbike journey through Russia, Finland, Denmark, and Germany the Vets with Horsepower group is proud to say,” we have raised a total of 300+ new smiles for Smile Train. The Horsepower team is proud to help Smile Train in its work and we are immensely grateful to the sponsors, supporters and Smile Train itself for their kindness and encouragement. It was worth every blister and every mile.”

Team rider Derek Knottenbelt says of this year’s trip, “The dust has settled after our amazing motorbike trip to St Petersburg in the summer. Sure it was tough from time to time, but this was NOTHING compared to the life-time of hardship suffered by people with unrepaired clefts. Our satisfaction on safe completion of our trip is matched by our satisfaction that in raising just under £50,000 we have made a significant life-change to 300+ people.”

Smile Trains UK’s Amerjit Chohan, Director, Fundraising, comments: “The sheer commitment and dedication from everyone has been utterly amazing. We’re so proud that Derek and the Vets with Horsepower team chose to support Smile Train. The money they raised will help provide new smiles for more than 300 children. Their efforts will have a lasting legacy for these children. Thank you Vets with Horsepower for all your support.”

Overcoming Adversity: International Day of People with Disabilities Story

Mast before

Mast & his parents before surgery

When Maya Milind Sonsale gave birth to her son, Mast Sangharsh Milind Sonsale, she was shocked, and immediately saddened to discover that he not only suffered from a cleft lip and palate, but also congenital blindness. When her husband saw Mast for the first time, he was so furious that he stormed off, leaving Mast and Maya at Maya’s parents’ house. Maya was upset, because she knew her husband was not the only person who would have that reaction to Mast. During the first four years of Mast’s life, the people in their community did not accept him because of his cleft. Maya also felt that because of his blindness it was even more difficult for him to form bonds with others, including her.

Maya discovered Smile Train when reading the newspaper and found an advertisement for the organization. She was so relieved to hear that Mast could receive free treatment, because there was no chance she could afford the surgery by herself. It took eight hours by car to get to the hospital, but Maya knew the long trip was more than worth it. Now, after the surgery, Mast’s father has returned to his child and wife. Maya now says that they are a happy family. Now that Mast’s cleft is repaired, and the family is reunited, they can work together to help Mast cope with his blindness.

mast after

Mast & his parents after surgery

A Cab Ride Changes a Life

Sonakshi Before and After

Patan, India—Sonakshi Arvind Kamble is a one-year-old girl from India who was born with a cleft lip. When Sonakshi was born her father, Arvind, was terrified. He said, “I was scared and had never seen this deformity so I was reluctant to hold the child.”

The neighbors told him Sonakshi would never be normal.

While Sonakshi’s parents took her to a local hospital for help. For six months Arvind and his daughter would make the trip to the hospital, but they were never told that cleft was treatable. On one of their trips to the hospital, the taxi driver who was taking them knew of Smile Train and told him that his daughter’s smile could be fixed. But Sonashi’s father, a driver himself, only earns 9,000 Rupees per month, about $150. He was nervous that he would not be able to afford the treatment. After an hour-long journey to Smile Train partner Godrej Memorial Hospital, Sonakshi and her family arrived at the hospital to good news—Smile Train could cover the costs of her surgery for free.

DSCN4219

Now Sonakshi, her father, and the entire family are very happy. Her father reports that their neighbors have been treating them much better now that Sonakshi’s cleft has been repaired. Besides commenting on how beautiful is daughter is, Arvind noted that he wants her to become a doctor so she can provide for herself and help others.


A Long Awaited Smile

Blog post 7.10.2014

Multan, Pakistan—Imagine providing for a family of three living on under seven dollars a day. Unfortunately, this is reality for young Muhammad Zaeem and his family. Muhammad is an only child living with his mother and father in a ‘kachi abadi’ in Pakistan. A ‘kachi abadi’ is an urban settlement in which impoverished people come together to create a makeshift community in order to support each other. Many of the people in these communities cannot read and do not have an adequate supply of resources.

Where Muhammad lives, superstition prevails over science. It is believed that children with a cleft lip are the result of carelessness on the mother’s behalf who, during pregnancy, cut something with a sharp edged knife during an eclipse. While a solution to Muhammad’s cleft was uncertain, his father became hopeful when he saw a Smile Train advertisement on the Bakhtawar Amin Hospital’s billboard.

Muhammad’s parents brought him to see Dr. Amir Hanif at the Bakhtawar Amin Hospital in September 2013. On his first visit Muhammad’s weight and hemoglobin levels were too low to undergo surgery. Dr. Hanif decided to wait four months so Muhammad could become stronger and properly nourished. Muhammad and his parents returned to the hospital in February 2014 and left three days later with Muhammad’s new smile.

The team from the Bakhtawar Amin Hospital visited Muhammad and his family two months later to find great news. Muhammad was living a normal, happy life and was accepted within his community. The family was cheerful and looking forward to the future.

Thankyou Smile Train