Monica Dominguez Power Of A Smile


Monica Dominguez, Program Manager of Mexico talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her. 

What first inspired you to work at Smile Train?

I wanted to be at a place where I could help give kids the most wonderful and pure expression of happiness, a smile.

How has your involvement with Smile Train made you look at the power a smile differently?

You take for granted that a smile is part of your life. Working with kids that are not able to smile makes you realize how important it is that I do it on a daily basis.

What keeps you involved in Smile Train?

The fact that desperation, hopelessness and sadness can magically be transformed by smiles, laughs and love. Smiling is so contagious, I want to keep going and spread all over the world.

Bere’s Story: No Need For Silence

Javier Campuzano Bere was born in Hidalgo Mexico with a cleft lip and palate. Bere’s mother, Domitila said that Bere had several cleft related medical problems, but despite them, she was a happy little girl.

When Bere got older she was excited to start her first day of school. However, when she got there the other kids made fun of her and started to call her names. When she returned home after her first day, Bere told her mother she never wanted to go back to school again. Bere became ashamed to talk at school because her schoolmates would come and look at her mouth and stare. So Bere gave up speaking at school altogether, and until her mom would pick her up at the end of the day she would just sit in a chair saying nothing.

Fortunately, Domitila found out about Smile Train, and was relieved to find that they would give Bere free surgery, she could not afford, to fix her cleft lip and palate. After the surgery her mother was so pleased and they both decided they would give school a second chance. A few weeks after the surgery, Bere was back in school and the other children were happy to see her.

Now Bere is doing great, she has many friends, and is much more talkative and outgoing. Her mother says, before Bere’s surgery she would never draw faces with a mouth, but now she loves drawing them and now the mouths always have a smile. Javier Campuzano

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.

Smile Train Cleft Choir Pilot Speech Program Underway

New York, NYSmile Train Vice President of Programs in charge of Latin America, Pamela Wren, gives an update on a unique and promising pilot speech therapy program, Cleft Choirs.

Help Us Win a Grant to Expand Our Cleft Choir Program! Vote for Smile Train Cleft Choirs

The Need For Expanded Speech Therapy

Access to cleft palate surgery is life-changing for any child in need, but for some children, this is only the first step in receiving cleft care. Following cleft surgery, many are still at risk of suffering from serious speech problems. Within a few months of palate surgery, children should demonstrate speech development progress, but some children require additional support, such as speech therapy. There are a number of reasons that a child might have speech issues, including:

  • Speech patterns that developed prior to cleft surgery (aka, the child learned how to speak with an open palate – in developed countries, children receive surgery before they learn how to speak, so as to avoid speech problems)
  • Incomplete closure in the palate that allows air to escape into the nose
  • Dental and teeth issues that limit the ability to produce certain sounds
  • Ear problems that affect hearing and, therefore, speech development

Traditional speech therapy, which entails one-on-one sessions between a child and a specialized therapist, requires a long-term commitment among children, their parents, and trained speech professionals. Such resources are often not available at hospitals in developing countries — many patients never return to the hospital following their initial surgery, let alone return for ongoing speech therapy sessions. In a recent survey, Smile Train hospitals identified a lack of financial support, equipment, trained professionals, training, and patient compliance as the most critical barriers to providing speech therapy.

Help Us Win a Grant to Expand Our Cleft Choir Program! Vote for Smile Train Cleft Choirs

Addressing Speech Therapy Needs

One very innovative partner in South America recently approached Smile Train with a unique, cost-effective technique to offer speech therapy to children in need — the development of Speech Therapy Choirs! This idea is based on the fact that choir practice will bring together children in a social way to practice new sounds and tap their inner musical selves. This experience helps children to gain confidence, develop new friendships, and also tap into a communication skill that they never before were able or willing to explore! In addition to correcting their speech, this experience encourages children with cleft lips and palates to overcome any social barriers they have experienced due to problems with proper speech, and help them develop into happy and productive people!

Smile Train loved this idea from the start, and took the opportunity of the Holiday Season to offer small pilot grants to six of Smile Train’s most enthusiastic partners across the region. The grants have enabled our partners to work with musicians and therapists to oversee the practices and development of the children, reimburse parents children for their transportation costs to and from practice, and cover nominal music supplies and equipment. After only a few months of these grants being active, not only have we seen that the choirs improve speech patterns for our Smile Train kids, they have also helped the kids make new friends, sing proudly in front of their peers and communities for the very first time, and heal their inner scars to feel whole, happy and complete!

Choirs Happening Now


Smile Train patients sing with Santa Claus

UNSELVA at Hospital Universitario Julio Muller — located in the interior of Brazil and offers care to about 100 Smile Train children a year. The team is led by head surgeon/cleft director Dr. Adalberto Novaes and speech therapist Adriana Lima Valente. They started practicing in October 2012 and just had a concert on December 7, 2012 to community members. The video shows them rocking out at the hospital entrance, with Santa Claus walking around bringing holiday cheer. You can see parents supporting their children as they learn to be proud and stand up in front of friends and community members as they sing in happiness about their new smiles.

Associação Beija-Flor-Funface at Hospital Infantil Albert Sabin — based in the north of Brazil, the poorest and most needy region of the entire country, this partner serves more 250 children with cleft lips and palates each year. They currently have a very long waiting list of patients in need of primary care. Smile Train is helping them with education grants so they can empower and train more professionals to join their team, and in turn be able to help more children. The lead surgeon is Dr José Ferreira and the speech program is run by Ms. Evelin Gondim. Their choir concert took place on December 11 🙂

Vote for Smile Train Cleft Choirs to Win a Grant From Uniqlo!

REPENSAR at Hospital Municipal Nossa Senhora Do Loreto — located on the outskirts of Rio de Janiero in a very poor neighborhood, the cleft program offers comprehensive treatment to all patients for free,
including speech therapy and orthodontics. This group loved the choir idea because it motivated the Smile Train children to return to the center to maintain their care and truly develop better speech and social habits. The director of the program is Dra Fatima Regina Almeida Brandao; the cleft program coordinator is Dra Ana Claudia Cruz; the cleft surgeons are Dr Giancarlo Cervo Rechia and Dr Luis Sergio Zanini, and the speech therapist coordinating the choir is Ms. Marinele Danieli Simões Dutra. The choir started practicing in October and put on a fantastic performance on December 17th when all of the kids in the cleft program dressed up as Christmas ornaments and trees as they happily sang in front of a large crowd!


Smile Train patients perform for friends and family as part of our Cleft Choir Speech Therapy program

Hospital del Día Niños de la Mano de Maria — This small partner hospital is 100% dedicated to serving poor patients with cleft lip and palate, and serves about 50 very poor families affected by cleft lip and palate each year. The families travel from across the country to the capital city to see them at their partner hospital. Smile Train is working with them to bring more awareness to people across the country about their program so they can then offer more services to more families in need. The surgical program is led by Dr Pablo Davalos and the coordinator of the team and the choir is Ms. Paty Penaherrera. The choir began practicing in October and even had an activity of practice at the local zoo! On December 17th, they hosted a choir concert where they all dressed up with Santa hats and performed for family members and friends at the hospital. The team and families are so happy about this that they are asking for additional support so they can continue to choir into the new year.


Help Us Win a Grant for Our Cleft Choir Program! Vote Here

Hospital General Dr. Gea Gonzalez — This is one of Smile Train’s original partners globally, and over the 11 years of our partnership they have developed many innovative speech therapy projects to serve their poor population of Smile Train patients. They provide life changing surgery to about 300 poor patients each year under the brilliant surgical guidance of Dr. Fernando Molina and shining speech therapist Ms. Maria Carmen Pamplona. The speech program is very large at the hospital and even though they do provide traditional one-on-one therapies for their patients, the lead therapist, Ms. Maria Carmen, strongly believes that their new choir is helping the children make tremendous strides in their speech development and self esteem. She is so happy with the new program and really looks forward to continuing it for all patients for years to come!


Smile Train patients at choir practice as part of a unique Speech Therapy program

kusiROSTROS — This is an NGO that works with a number of Smile Train’s partner hospitals based in the capital city of Peru, Lima. Smile Train provides more than 700 surgeries across the country in one year. Smile Train’s largest and oldest partner in Lima is called CIRPLAST and is run by partner surgeon Dr. Carlos Navarro. KusiROSTROS applied for the pilot speech therapy choir grant because they have speech professionals who were very excited about the opportunity. As soon as they heard about the project, they started calling all of the Smile Train patients from Lima who are between 4 – 13 years old to see if they would be interested in joining the choir to develop their speech skills and also meet other children who perhaps are going through similar experiences of dealing with their scars and poor speech. About 40 children started participating in weekly choir practices. You can see the photographs of the kusiROSTROS team building decorating a special space for the children to meet, so they would feel welcome and at home at the site to practice and develop their new skills.

Please Help Us Win a Grant from Uniqlo to Expand Our Cleft Choir Program! Vote for Smile Train Cleft Choirs

Smile Train Speech Therapy Summer Camp in Mexico

Mexico City – As many families and patients know, in many cases repairing a cleft palate is only the first step. Within a few months of cleft palate surgery, most patients demonstrate speech development progress, but some children require on-going speech therapy. If a palate is repaired before the child learns to talk, the need for speech therapy drastically decreases, however, the older the patient, the harder it is to change the speech after the surgery. The reason is that with a cleft palate, the child learns to speak differently attempting to make the sounds that he or she hears. When the palate is repaired after the child has learned to speak already, the child needs to relearn to say certain sounds that were affected by the cleft palate. Over the last few years, one of Smile Train’s goals has been to find a way to effectively and efficiently provide speech therapy to our patients that need it in order to lead normal lives. An innovative approach to speech therapy is being led by long time Smile Train partner Hospital General Dr Manuel Gea Gonzalez.

Traditionally, speech therapy is conducted in 45 minute sessions twice a week for months and even years. María del Carmen Pamplona has created a Speech Therapy Summer Day Camp for poor patients from in and around Mexico City who are unable to routinely visit speech therapists. Last year’s day camp served 66 patients 4 days a week for 3 weeks and saw improvements in their speech equivalent to 8-10 months of a regular speech pathology schedule. For these very poor children, they had the added bonus of a field trip to visit their favorite soccer stars and the local zoo – a treat they would never have been able to experience.

The results of the camp have extended into the classroom for the majority of the campers such as Ana Sofia. After she had her palate repaired, six-year old Ana started school, but because she was still having difficulty speaking properly, she had trouble making friends, learning, participating in class, and her self-esteem and life suffered. Because she lived too far away from any speech services that her parents would never have been able to afford, she moved in with her uncle and attended the day camp. In just 3 weeks, she was able to learn and play with other children who had the same difficulties and saw dramatic improvements in her speech. After the camp, her parents were given exercises for her to practice and her teacher sent the camp a letter explaining the difference in Ana’s schooling and life: she has grown assured in herself, always eager to suggest her ideas and raiser her hand for questions and has become one of the most popular kids in her class because of her friendly manor. This from a girl who a year before was embarrassed to go to school.

The Hospital General Dr Manuel Gea Gonzalez Speech Therapy Day Camp also serves as an intensive training workshop for speech pathologists. Last year’s camp further trained 47 speech pathologists who are all eager to take what they have learned to their own cities. This year’s camp starts up this July!

Be sure to check out the pictures from last year’s camp:

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