Peter James ‘Bringing the World Together’

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Peter James, of Market Harborough, plans to launch a local festival to raise money for Smile Train, following his ‘life-changing’ trip to Vientiane, Lao PDR.

After supporting Smile Train for several years, Peter James decided to visit Smile Train partner Children’s Hospital located in Vientiane, Lao PDR, so that he could witness the impact his donations were making in the lives of local children.

During his time at the hospital, Peter met with Smile Train Country Manager, Dzung T. Nguyen, and Senior Surgeon, Dr Chay Phachanh, who educated him on the process of sourcing and treating children with clefts in the region.

Peter 300 2“The trip was an unforgettable and life-changing experience — It completely opened my eyes to how vital cleft surgery is for children living in Lao PDR and similar parts of the world. I learnt that children with clefts are often hidden away from their community, so the first – and most difficult – task for Smile Train is to reach out and find them,” said Peter.

Peter continued, “Smile Train is such a great charity because the surgery they help fund for children is totally life-changing. The opportunity to have a procedure to treat their cleft is a gift and can have a huge positive impact on the whole family — it’s like a rebirth for the family.”

Following his trip, Peter has decided to launch an internationally-themed festival called “East West Fest- Bringing the World Together” in Market Harborough and Bournemouth to raise additional funds for Smile Train. The festival will invite local residents to join together and experience arts, crafts, foods and textiles from all over the globe.

We were so pleased to hear that Peter was inspired by his trip to our partner hospital in Vientiane. It’s always fantastic to hear that our fundraisers are inspired by our work and have seen first-hand the impact donations have for children in developing countries. We are delighted to have Peter as a Smile Train supporter, and are very much looking forward to his ‘Bringing the World Together’ festival.
Hannah Weston, Community and Events Manager, Fundraising, Smile Train UK

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.

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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: smiletrain.org/journeyofsmiles

From Brooklyn to Brazil: A Transformational Journey

Jacob (on the right, in a Smile Train shirt) with Maria Emanuela & her family.

Jacob (on the right, in a Smile Train shirt) with Maria Emanuela & her family.

Guest blogger and Smile Train staff member, Jacob, shares his experience meeting Smile Train patient, Maria Emanuela, on his most recent trip to Brazil.

Recife, Brazil –My name is Jacob. I’m the Associate, Special Projects and Assistant to the CEO and have worked at Smile Train for almost two years. Recently, I was given the opportunity to go to Brazil to visit our local in-country Smile Train partners and patients. I speak Portuguese, so I relished the opportunity to speak directly with patients and families without the need of a translator. This story is about my visit with a little girl named Maria Emanuela who received her free surgery four years ago thanks to our local Smile Train partners in Brazil.

We met Maria Emanuela’s father, Jobson, at a public square and were led through a maze of unpaved one-way streets, some of which had huge puddles of water and mud to navigate through. After ten minutes, I wondered if we would even be able to find our way out or even if we would be able to turn the car around.

Fortunately, after some struggle, we were able to find the house. We were greeted by Girlene, Maria Emanuela’s mother, and asked to come in as she hugged us and thanked us for visiting. Then I finally got to meet Maria Emanuela, although at first she was more interested in eating cake with her sister than meeting the strangers in her house. Soon, she began to show us to her bedroom and her collection of dolls.

I returned the family’s hospitality with a care package from a special Smile Train donor that had a lot of neat things for kids: a coloring book, bracelets, crayons, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, a small mirror, among other fun things that kids would enjoy. Maria Emanuela and her sister took to coloring immediately. Maria Emanuela promised that she would brush her teeth every day.

As a final gift we brought a picture of Maria Emanuela before her surgery, something that the family did not have. The child in the photo was almost unrecognizable to her parents, and we learned that the family sought treatment within seven days of Maria Emanuela being born. They said they had never seen anyone with a cleft lip before and were very relieved when they arrived at our Smile Train partner hospital, Center of the Care of Facial Defects at IMIP, to find other families and patients just like them. Our Smile Train partners talked to the family about how common cleft births actually are and the importance of following up with Maria Emanuela’s treatment schedule for a full recovery.

As we wrapped up our visit with Guaraná, a Brazilian soft drink, and some cake the family agreed to take some family photos outside the house as a way to remember the experience. We thanked them for their hospitality and started down the street. We had already walked down the street when to our surprise both Maria Emanuela and her sister came running up to me and my colleague with a request; they wanted us to write our names down on a piece of paper so they could always remember us!

To see a child with that much confidence, a child who when born was in need of so much help, who could have been left on the fringes of society merely for the fact that she was born with a cleft lip, to see that child running and smiling and courageous, is something that I will never forget. It put so many things in perspective about not only what Smile Train did for that little girl, but what Smile Train did for her family and her community.

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Maria holding a picture of herself before her surgery.