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.

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Welcome Home Zachary: An Adoption Story

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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.”

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Patience Rewarded With New Smiles

Dr. Ashraf with a group of Smile Train patients from Djibouti after their free cleft surgeries.

Dr. Ashraf with a group of Smile Train patients from Djibouti after their free cleft surgeries.

Djibouti, Djibouti— When Smile Train East Africa Manager, Dr. Esther Njoroge visited Djibouti in February, she was not sure what to find. The tiny country’s lone Smile Train partner Al Rahma Hospital had been dormant for almost two years. Determined to revive the hospital’s Smile Train program, Dr. Njoroge decided she needed to visit the partner. This would be her first visit and what she found more than pleasantly surprised her.

When Dr. Njoroge arrived at Al Rahma Hospital located in Djibouti’s capital, also named Djibouti, she was met by a very warm and welcoming staff, as well as an impeccable hospital serving the poor community of the country. Located on the Horn of Africa neighboring Somalia to the southeast and Ethiopia to the southwest, Djibouti is one of the smallest countries in the world. Of its population of 900,000, 40 percent live on less than two dollars per day.

During the time that Dr. Njoroge had thought the hospital had suspended their Smile Train program, the staff had actually mobilized 45 cleft patients to receive free Smile Train surgeries. For a country with little more than 20 estimated cleft births each year, this was an impressive total.  “What do we do with these patients?” the staff asked. Their previous surgeon had left, but the staff at the hospital knew they needed to help these patients.

Dr. Njoroge quickly got in touch with an Egyptian surgeon living and working in Kenya, Dr. Ashraf Emarah. He agreed to not only visit to provide cleft surgery, but also provide cleft surgery training to another surgeon at the hospital eager to learn. On March 15th, less than a month after Dr. Njoroge called him, Dr. Ashraf made his way to Djibouti. During his two-week stay each one of the 45 cleft patients who had been waiting received free surgery, plus another, for a total of 46 new smiles!

Smile Train partner Amin Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Hospital celebrates 1,000th cleft surgery

Dr. Mughese Amin (center) celebrates his hospital's 1,000th Smile Train with his staff and  lucky patient Abdullah, being held by his father, Abdur Rehman.

Dr. Mughese Amin (center) celebrates his hospital’s 1,000th Smile Train with his staff and lucky patient Abdullah, being held by his father, Abdur Rehman.

Bahawalpur, PakistanSmile Train partner surgeon Dr. Mughese Amin recently wrote to inform us of his hospital’s 1,000th Smile Train surgery. A Smile Train partner since 2008, Dr. Mughese manages his Smile Train program at Amin Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Hospital, which he founded. He is also an Associate Professor & Head of the Department Plastic Surgery at Quaid E Azam Medical College and Victoria Hospital located in Bahawalpur, Pakistan.

Our 1,000th Smile Train patient, one-and-a-half-year-old Abdullah, son of Abdur Rehman, came to Amin Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Hospital after his father saw an advertisement about Smile Train in a newspaper. Abdullah’s father told me that this was his only son after six daughters and that Abdullah is very precious for him and his family. When I met the family I saw that the father of the child also had a cleft lip. This chap had spent a whole of his life with this cleft. I asked him if I could operate on him as well, but he said he was too old now and would come later for his surgery. He was not much interested in his surgery at the time.

Father and son before Abdullah's surgery. His father, Abdur, will receive cleft surgery shortly.

Father and son before Abdullah’s surgery. His father, Abdur, will receive cleft surgery shortly.

Abdullah’s father said he is very poor so he could not afford surgery. When I examined Abdullah his father asked me hesitantly what was the fee for surgery. I said, “Nothing. It is free.” He was surprised when I told him this. Very unfortunately the person from his village who brought son and father to my hospital took 3,000 Rupees (about $30 USD) from them claiming it was a doctor fee. I then called that chap and got Abdullah’s father his money back.

Please join everyone here at Smile Train in congratulating Dr. Mughese and his hospital for this huge smilestone!