Jessica’s Unforgettable Journey to Indonesia

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I recently participated in my first Journey of Smiles trip. These trips provide Smile Train supporters the opportunity to visit partner hospitals and patients in the field. For me, there is nothing more impactful and rewarding than seeing first-hand how Smile Train gives children second chances at life, and I was thrilled by the opportunity to visit our partners in Indonesia.

Our first visit was to partner hospital Yaya Senyum Bali where we viewed a cleft lip surgery and visited their Smile House. The Smile House was created to offer patients and their families a place to stay and receive pre- and post-operative assistance. Many of our patients travel very long distances to reach our partner hospitals, especially in Indonesia, an archipelago of 18,307 islands! Some of our patients have never seen electricity or running water before they arrive in Bali.


The staff at the Smile House provides more than just room and board for patients and their families, they also connect them with a larger network of people who are going through the same experience. During their time at the Smile House everyone is one big family.

Some people are so moved by their experience at the Smile House that they are inspired to give back. One former patient was so thankful for all that the Smile House provided for her, she decided to stay on and work as the Smile House’s cook.  She’s able to provide not just meals for those staying there, but support from someone who knows exactly what they are going through.

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From Bali, we flew to Bandung to meet the staff and patients at our partner hospital YPPCBL. Our entire group was humbled by the compassion with which the staff approached their efforts of helping children with clefts. They are constantly pushing themselves to try and find ways to do even more to help their patients. Their whole team, surgeons, speech therapists, social workers and administrators, are so wonderful that it’s not hard to imagine why the people at the cleft center have become like a second family for their patients.

After our time at YPPCBL, we visited former Smile Train patient Elka and her family, who live in a two room apartment on the outskirts of Bandung.

Elka received free cleft palate surgery at YPPCBL when she was three years old, two years later than when most babies receive cleft palate surgery. Repairing a cleft palate at that age caused Elka to develop a speech impairment and require years of speech therapy, provided for free at YPPCBL.

YPPCBL’s speech therapist, who works with Elka, accompanied us on the visit. It was so heartwarming to see the relationship that the speech therapist had with Elka. It felt like she was part of Elka’s family.

I am beyond grateful to be given the opportunity to travel to Indonesia, meet our local team there and share this experience with our supporters. Words cannot describe how inspiring it was to see our programs through their eyes. Without the support of our donors, none of this would be possible.

To find out how you can join us on a Journey of Smiles visit:

Sukma: Words Hurt

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Amir was worried about the arrival of his fifth child. He would need to find a way to support the family on an income of $36 a month as a struggling rice farmer living in West Java, Indonesia. When his son Sukma arrived with a cleft lip, Amir did not know what to do.

His small rice paddy crop, meant to be sold for income, was quickly exhausted to feed his family so Amir had to sign up for the only job he could find; carrying quarry rock down a mountain.  Amir’s few moments of free time were spent looking for help for Sukma. Amir searched for free cleft surgery for his son and he was devastated when two cleft mission groups denied him without explanation.

When Sukma started school, his father said he would cry every day when he came home. He hated the teasing from his schoolmates and teachers in his school, but he said it was most hurtful when complete strangers would taunt him. Because of his frustration and the family’s financial situation, Sukma dropped out of primary school.
Sukma went to work to help out the family and he said for 17 years he lived in shame because of his unrepaired cleft lip. After 17 long years of waiting, Sukma heard about local Smile Train partner Obor Berkat hospital and the year-round free cleft surgeries they provide.

Sukma AfterOn his surgery day Sukma said that he was afraid, but excited. “My unrepaired cleft lip forced me to drop out of school and live my entire life in shame, when only 30 kilometers away free Smile Train surgery was waiting. It would have changed everything,” he said.

After his surgery Sukma reports that his father could not believe the change in him, “He keeps calling me handsome.” Looking toward the future, Sukma is happy to begin his new life that was 17 long years in the making.

For Wayan’s Parents, Paradise is in their Child’s Smile

Wayan Arsa Diprasta, held by his mother, Ni Nyoman Sulatri, plays with an employee of the Smile Train partner hospital where his cleft was repaired, Yayasan Senyum Bali.

Wayan, held by his mother, Ni Nyoman Sulatri, plays with an employee of the Smile Train partner hospital where his cleft was repaired, Yayasan Senyum Bali.

Tabanan, Indonesia Smile Train staff member Emily Dakin recently visited Smile Train partner hospital Yayasan Senyum Bali in Indonesia. While examining best practices in administration at partner hospitals, she had the opportunity to visit patients and their families with staff members. Upon her return from Indonesia she shared her experience.

When you hear someone talk about Bali, thoughts of a tropical paradise with pristine beaches and the greenest landscapes imaginable come to mind. Every guidebook talks about how gracious, warm and religious the people are. You can’t help but think that anyone who lived in such a heavenly place would be anything but happy. And you can’t imagine that anywhere on the island doesn’t live up to this ideal.

Wayan's street is home to a community of 35 people who all share one, outdoor toliet.

Wayan’s street is home to a community of 35 people who all share one, outdoor toliet.

Over an hour away from luxury hotels and major tourist areas, I met one-year-old Wayan Arsa Diprasta and his family. After driving across narrow bridges, hairpin turns, and uneven roads, we finally reached his small compound within the town of Tabanan called Desa Marga Dajan Puri. In order to reach Desa I walked up a steep, dusty, dirt hill to reach a small road with about 10 modest homes built around a small shrine. Each house had just two rooms and very limited electricity. There was one outdoor toilet and faucet for the 35 residents of the compound. Their small space shared with the ducks, chickens, and emaciated dogs that freely wander around. This was not the tropical paradise that everyone envisions.

I was greeted by a small group of villagers, including Wayan’s parents, his father, Wayan Suarsa, a non-permanent day laborer, and, his mother, Ni Nyoman Sulatri, a housewife. We were immediately surprised by their happy and friendly disposition. It was such a sharp contrast to the surroundings. They insisted that we take the iced tea and boiled tubers (potato-like food) that they offered us as they told us the story of their son.

Wayan and his father, Wayan Suarsa

Wayan and his father, Wayan Suarsa.

They were surprised when Wayan was born with a cleft lip and palate as no one in their family had been born with the condition before. As paying for surgery was out of the question, the family was thrilled to learn about the free treatment that their son could get through Yayasan Senyum Bali. However, since the foundation was over an hour away, Wayan’s family had to borrow a motorcycle to get to the market in town. And from there, they had to take a van to the main terminal, and then three minibuses to get to the hospital in Denpasar. But they didn’t complain. They were so grateful that their son could receive treatment – that was all that mattered to them.

I’ve never seen a baby as happy as Wayan. He was thrilled to interact with so many people and wasn’t afraid to reach out to be held by us… or to grab our sunglasses! He couldn’t stop giggling despite the hot, dusty air. And I’ll never forget how gracious and welcoming his family was. It made me realize why the Balinese people are so spiritual and devoted. It’s not just because of their amazing island, it’s because they are grateful for every gift that they are given, no matter what other struggles they have to endure.

A cleft surgery does more than save a child’s life. A cleft surgery gives them the opportunity to smile no matter what difficulties they’ll have to face in their lives. Wayan and his family have witnessed a miracle and now all of them will be smiling and laughing no matter what life brings them.

The Kindness of Strangers

Smile Train patients, brothers Winner Ramadhan and Achmad Alwi before and after free cleft lip surgery

Brothers Winner Ramadhan (top) and Achmad Alwi (bottom) before and immediately after free cleft lip surgery

Sulawesi, Indonesia — anyone who has ever been helped by a complete stranger knows just how much that kindness can impact their lives, but few get the chance to repay those who helped them. David Cogswell, a Princeton Fellow teaching at the Anglo-Chinese Junior College in Singapore, recently traveled to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi where he met a poor, local English teacher and farmer named Natsir.

“Natsir showed genuine compassion and hospitality to my friend and me, opening up his home to us, introducing us to his family, and sharing what little food he had to make us feel welcome as his guests. Yet I was deeply affected when I saw his youngest son’s cleft, given the lack of cost-effective medical care in the region.”

When he returned, David reached out to his mother, a speech pathologist in the U.S., to see if she knew where to find help. She contacted Smile Train Regional Director Simon Tobing and Program Manager Deasy Lasarati who were able to track down Natsir soon after. To their surprise, both of Natsir’s sons had cleft lips. On January 14th, Winner Ramadhan and his older brother Achmad Alwi received free surgery under skilled surgeon Dr. Senja Adianto. They’ll soon both be smiling thanks to Smile Train donors, staff, David, his mother, and their father’s kindness. This wonderful news will carry further as David is spreading the word about Smile Train’s programs to his network of teachers in Southeast Asia to reach even more children.


We just received this thank you note from Achmad Alwi and had to share it.

Smile Train patient Achmad Alwi sends his thanks for his free cleft surgery

On behalf of everyone in the Smile Train family, you’re more than welcome Achmad. We couldn’t be happier for you and Winner!

Sorrow, Courage, and Hope: Wina Anugrah

On November 30th, Smile Train officially announced surpassing 700,000 surgeries. Seven-month-old Wina Anugrah was selected as a representative of this amazing “smilestone.” This is her story.

Smile Train patient Wina Anugrah before free cleft lip sugery

Jakarata, Indonesia — Despite hard living conditions, Willem and Asima were ecstatic when Asima became pregnant with their second child. They began to put aside the little money they could spare in anticipation of their new daughter’s arrival. However, during the second month of pregnancy, their joy turned to despair, frustration, and fear when Willem was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.

The money they had saved for Wina’s birth had to be used alongside loans from family, friends, and his employer for Willem’s cancer treatment. As his cancer worsened, Willem weakened and had to quit his job. Asima explained to our partner hospital, “my entire family was so sad. My husband was too weak to do anything and I had to open a little market in front of our house to try to pay for food and his care.” After nine months, Asima had still not given birth and the doctor decided she would need to undergo a Caesarean section.

“When my husband saw Wina, he cried. He thought it was his fault because he had a tumor.”

Willem was no longer strong enough to go to the hospital and could not be by his wife during her surgery — when Wina was born with a cleft lip and palate. “When my husband saw Wina, he cried. He thought it was his fault because he had a tumor.” They tried to remain strong and push forward with the help of their extended family, but three months after Wina was born, Willem passed away.

Smile Train patient Wina Anugrah after free cleft lip surgery

With the loss of her husband, Asima’s sorrow returned ten fold as her daughters would grow up without their father and Wina would have one less loving parent to help her in a world that looked down upon her for her birth defect. This past fall, a social worker volunteering for Smile Train partner Bandung CLP-Center in Bandung Santosa Hospital arrived at Asima’s door. Wina was enrolled at the hospital and recently underwent free cleft lip surgery and is scheduled for palate surgery when she is a few months older.

Smile Train patient Wina Anugrah and her Mom, Asima after surgery

Sadly, Wina will grow up without her father, but thanks to our partner hospital, she has a new smile and will not have to face a life of torment and ridicule for how she was born. For Asima, the world was finally starting to lighten again, “Thanks to Jesus Christ for this miracle and to Bandung CLP-Center and Santosa Hospital and the team who helped my daughter. Thanks to Smile Train donors and Dr. Koeswara Amoes who performed Wina’s surgery. I hope my husband can see our beautiful daughter in Heaven and can feel this happiness too.”

Smile Train Indonesia Saves Twins

Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia –

Aris Warsianto and his new wife were overjoyed when she began to show signs of pregnancy. A daily worker at a logging company earning less than $35 a month, Aris was happily looking forward to the birth of his first child, but his wife’s belly was getting larger than he ever expected. A local doctor soon gave the couple the news: TWINS! Months of earger anticipation culminated on what was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives. As the doctor handed him his first born son, Aris’ joy turned to sorrow and confusion. His son had been born with a grotesque facial deformity. In shock, Aris clutched his infant son in his hands as the doctor showed him his second son, with an even more pronounced cleft. He could not hear his wife’s calls to hold their sons. He could only stare blankly, wondering what he did wrong. The doctor informed her that their sons had cleft lips and cleft palates: tears ran down her cheeks when she saw her sons for the first time and finally understood what he meant.

In an instant, all of their dreams came crashing down. Their hopes of sending their boys to school and raising a  family, replaced by dread, hopelessness, and the knowledge that their boys would never have normal lives. The doctors had mentioned that a surgery could repair Ahamd Alfin Darmawan and Ahmad Alfan Darmawan, but Aris knew they would never be able to afford the surgery. For weeks, he wrestled with this despair and concluded that the only way to prevent the pain and suffering his boys would face was to end their lives. He thought of numerous ways to do it, but he could never bring himself to commit such an horrific act. Aris and his family would suffer, but they would suffer together.

Then one day, after hearing of the twins,  a man from a nearby village came to speak with Aris. The man arrived with his own young child who was born with a cleft, but had received surgery through Smile Train. Aris ran his finger across the child’s lip as the man told him that the Surabaya Cleft Lip Palate Center would do the surgeries for free. Aris did not wait. The next day, the boys were being examined at Surbaya Cleft Lip and Palate Center as the staff showed the parents pictures of other patients who had the surgery and how different they looked afterwards. The staff set a surgery date for both little boys and lifted the heavy burden from their young parents, renewing the hope and joy that preceded their births. As our Smile Train doctors brought Ahmad Alfin and Ahmad Alfan out of the operating room, Aris could not hold back  tears of happiness.

Thanks to our amazing partner in East Java, the benevolvent stranger who had suffered the same pains, and our donors, Ahmad Alfin and Ahmad Alfan have been given beautiful smiles that will last a lifetime.