This Little Boy’s Smile Will Steal Your Heart

Muhammad before and after

Peshawar, Pakistan—When Muhammad Abdullah was born a little over a year ago his parents’ joy over the birth of their first child was quickly replaced by fear and worry. The newborn baby had arrived with a cleft lip and palate.

“When I was in my first pregnancy I had so many beautiful thoughts about my baby, but when I saw my little baby after birth I was really shocked because this was the first case of cleft in the family,” said Abdullah’s mother. “The second difficult thing that I faced were people’s expressions and their questions about Abdullah, like what happened to him and how it happened.”

In the region of Pakistan surrounding Peshawar, where Abdullah was born, exists many myths about children born with clefts. Many believe that if a pregnant woman works during a moon or sun eclipse that her unborn child will develop a cleft, especially if she is using a knife at the time of the eclipse. As Abdullah was the only one in his family with cleft there was little awareness about the condition to know otherwise.

As with many cleft lip and palate patients Abdullah had some initial difficulty feeding. When the family approached a doctor to help with their child’s malnourishment they were told that their son’s cleft could be repaired and were connected to a plastic surgeon. With the first hurdle of their son’s feeding cleared the new parents were ready to get the surgery required to close the gap in Abdullah’s lip and mouth. As quickly as they overcome one difficulty, they were met with another—the cost of the surgery.The young parents were stuck. Should they get the treatment their son needs, but incure an unpayable debt that would put the family in a financial crisis?

The surgeon shared the name of organization who might be able to help—Smile Train. The couple took to Facebook and were able to connect to the organization, and ultimately to the Smile Train partner hospital who would repair their son’s cleft at no cost to them.

While very nervous on the date of their son’s surgery, the couple was relieved after its completion that they and their son would no longer be the center of attention due to his birth defect. “The smiling face of my son sweeps all my worries away,” said Abdullah’s mother.

“Thanks to Smile Train and the doctors who made my son smile,” she added. “And his parents too. Now we are all happy.”

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


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.

An Engaging Smile


Agra, India—Growing up in a Noorpur, India, a small village in the northern part of the country, 40-year-old Madhuri learned to accept her cleft lip as her parents could never afford the simple surgery that would help her. Like many people living with cleft, Madhuri lived a life deprived of self-confidence and respect. Despite this she was able to marry and have a family of her own. Her husband, working odd jobs as a manual laborer, also could not provide the funding needed to repair his wife’s cleft.

An already difficult life became even more so when her eldest son began seeking a wife. As is the custom in Madhuri’s village, when young men are ready for marriage, eligible bachelorettes visit their homes to meet the entire family. Unfortunately, those who knocked on Madhuri’s door to meet her son, refused to marry him after meeting Madhuri. No one wanted to marry into a family whose matriarch had a cleft. Seeing her son suffer the way he had made Madhuri desperate to find treatment.

Not long after, treatment found her. Two volunteers from a Smile Train partner over 150 miles away, Saraswat Hospital, were in Madhuri’s village as part of an outreach program to find more cleft patients. Madhuri described their arrival as a “God-send.” Soon after meeting the two volunteers she was on her way to Saraswat Hospital where she had her cleft repaired.

Madhuri happily reported back to our partner hospital that potential wives have begun visiting her son again. Giving her even more reasons to smile.

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.

Pleasant Hill Elementary School Mini Marathon for Smile Train

Smile Train supporter Tom Cronin was born with a cleft now, together with his students he raises money for children to receive free cleft lip and palate surgery

Columbia, SCThomas Cronin, Physical Education Teacher, Pleasant Hill Elementary and Mini Marathon Event Director shares how his students are creating smiles around the world. Our deepest thanks to Tom and all of the students, staff, and faculty of Pleasant Hill Elementary and everyone involved!

I was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Fortunately, I was born in the United States and had surgeries to repair my cleft. There are more than one million children in developing countries who do not have this opportunity. They grow up with an unrepaired cleft and live a life of shame. They are abandoned, do not go to school or get married. Smile Train is a charity that provides free cleft surgery for these children.

Over the last 9 years, my wife and I have made personal donations to Smile Train, but I wanted to do more. I immediately thought of my role as a physical education teacher. In 2007, The Pleasant Hill Elementary School Mini Marathon was created to help Smile Train and increase the physical fitness level of my students.

Pleasant Hill Elementary raises funds to provide free cleft lip and palate surgery

The mini marathon starts several weeks before the actual run and walk. The students view videos and pictures about Smile Train during physical education class prior to the run/walk. The knowledge about Smile Train and clefts helps the students understand why they are running and walking and who they are raising money to help. All students receive a Smile Train bracelet, and many students earn a Pleasant Hill Elementary mini marathon t-shirt. Our 5th grade art students contribute by making event posters.

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. By the end of the day over 900 students run and walk in support of Smile Train. The students are able to complete the mini marathon by using the lessons of running pace, running stride and proper breathing technique taught during physical education class. Some older and advanced students run the whole 30 minutes and complete almost 3 miles, while some of the younger students alternate between running and walking. This pattern enables them to complete 1.5 miles.

Students of Pleasant Hill Elementary School ran to provide free cleft surgery

The Mini Marathon is directly related to Lexington School District One’s LexLives strategic goal. This is related to improving the health and wellness of its students by increasing fitness and decreasing obesity. Families and the community are also involved.Families walk and run with their children. Local business partners sponsor the event and also participate in the run and walk.

In the 7 years this event has been held, the students at Pleasant Hill Elementary have been able to fund 376 cleft lip and palate operations for Smile Train.

The Mini Marathon does several things. It gets kids more physically fit through the running and walking and teaches students about helping others and community service. It gives kids the opportunity that I had 41 years ago — to have their cleft lip and palate repaired and live a productive life.

If you would like to get your school involved with Smile Train, please contact us at .

Gamby Hospital Cleft Week April 24-30, 2013

Smile Train Patient Tesfaye Manaye before her free cleft surgery

Smile Train Patient Tesfaye Manaye before her free cleft surgery

Bahar Dar, EthiopiaSmile Train’s Program Manager of East Africa, Dr. Esther Njoroge, reports from the field.

Meeting with Smile Train cleft patients and their parents

Meeting with cleft patients and their parents

I always enjoy visiting Ethiopia and for selfish reasons, it’s the only time I can claim to be eight years younger and technically I would not be lying. The reason is they follow the Orthodox calendar, and therefore today is 17/8/2005, brilliant, no?

Today, I got to spend my time not boasting of my young age, but with a special group of people, cleft lip and palate patients from the Amhara region and beyond. It was the second day of a cleft week at Gamby Hospital, Bahar Dar. A week when the hospital dedicates its operating rooms for cleft surgery. The week is preceded by a month of intense awareness creation and mobilization. By today morning, 40 patients (and their parents or guardians) had gathered at the hospital, and we expect more as the week wears on. When the surgeons and I walked in, we were greeted by a multitude of eager, hopeful faces. They had traveled long distances; some had walked for two days to get to the point of public transport.

Smile Train patients and families await free cleft surgery

Smile Train patients and families

And so I spent the day talking to them and listening to their varied stories as well as sharing in their hopes and dreams. The best part about a day like today, is knowing deep down that we have changed people’s lives, possibly altered their destiny.


Meet Adenew, a shy 15 year old boy who is in 7th grade. He comes from Eastern Belessa, some 240km or so from Bahar Dar. He enjoys playing football and volleyball with his friends, and he dreams of being a private investor one day. A good choice of career, I tell him, private business is booming in Ethiopia right now and possibly in the foreseeable future. I ask him why he wants his cleft repaired, why he has travelled so far. “Though am not stigmatized because of my cleft, I feel bad living with a cleft, and I want to be like normal people” he replies and goes back to staring at the same spot on the floor. This is a survival mechanism for him, I realize, for as long as he is looking at that spot, one cannot immediately tell he has a cleft! Adenew finally gets his turn at the close of the day, and the smile on his face and eyes after I showed him his ‘after surgery’ photo spoke volumes!

Smile Train Patient Adenew before and after his free cleft lip surgery

Tesfaye Manaye after her free cleft surgery

Tesfaye Manaye after her free cleft surgery 🙂

Tesfaye Manay

The young lady at the beginning of this blog is Tesfaye Manaye, who is my daughter’s age, three going on sixteen. She is the most adorable kid you can imagine and she had the cutest shoes. A last born in a family of three, she is the only one with a cleft in her entire family. Her mother traveled more than 280km, to give her a chance at a life without ridicule. Am sure that’s just what they received today, and after Tesfaye wakes up, the swelling goes down and the healing takes place, the smile on her beautiful face will be precious to see.

Siraw Mengest

And the triple bounty went to Mr. Siraw Mengest from Lalibela. At 59 years of age, he has lived with a cleft lip all his life. And what is worse, his two grandchildren, Mamite, 10 and Tekeba, 12 were born with a cleft as well. Today, a journey of two days on foot and 200km by bus coupled with all his hope and faith will bear fruit. Their clefts will be repaired, their lives changed forever, just by a smile.

Siraw Mengest  and his grandchildren before Smile Train surgery

Thank you Smile Train, on behalf of all these people for providing the fuel that keeps this train moving.