Two Generations of Uncertainty

When Lackson Koliesa was born, his mother Joyce was devastated when she saw that he had a cleft lip. Joyce learned from an early age how kids and adults treated people who look differently and she knew the suffering that lay ahead for her sweet boy.

Joyce was from a large family, including an uncle with a cleft lip. “My uncle had a cleft lip and was called an “ogre” by people in the village. When we walked down the streets kids used to scatter whenever they saw him, they all had their harrowing theories on why he had a cleft lip,” Joyce recalls.Luckson Koliesa Joyce tried as best as she could to get her son’s cleft lip fixed. But her hopes dwindled as time went on. She couldn’t afford paying for a reparative surgery for her son and she thought Lackson was in store for the same future as her uncle.

When she learned of Smile Train and the free surgeries local Smile Train surgeons help provide, she finally found her answer. She embarked on a four hour long journey from her town in Solwezi to Ndola. Joyce was filled with uncertainty the entire trip, wondering if her son would receive the free surgery. When Joyce and Lackson arrived in Ndola little Lackson was screened and cleared for surgery.

It frightened Joyce to send her baby into surgery, but when he emerged from the operating room less than an hour later, she knew she’d made the right decision. Lackson will never have to suffer the way her uncle did.

“You are my heroes” she says, “Smile Train gave my son a bright future.”

Luckson Koliesa (4)

How a Smile Created A Personal Mission


New York, NYSmile Train supporter Lisa Fast shares her experiences with cleft and Smile Train.

After having such a positive experience dealing with my cleft lip and cleft palate, it has become my passion to help others achieve the same happiness in life. A life without a repaired cleft would be unbearable. Personally, I would not have made it through my years of soccer and would not currently be at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Sophomore year of high school I truly realized how lucky I was to have grown up with the treatment, doctors, and support that I did.

I initially became involved with Smile Train when I made a personal fundraising page. I set my goal as $5,000. I wrote emails and letters to family, friends, and neighbors creating awareness of the fund. Also, after my soccer games I would recycle water bottles from teammates. Because recycling is only a few cents a bottle, whatever I made recycling my mother would match. In place of birthday gifts, I asked for donations to be made. Between these sources I reached my goal of $5,000 in as quickly as one month. I then decided to bump up my goal to $10,000 because why not continue to help other children have a chance to receive a new smile?

Lisa and Mom2 A deeper involvement with Smile Train began after the tragic passing of my mother my junior year of high school. Because of her equal passion for helping others with clefts, our family created a Smile Train Memorial Fund in her honor. As of today, the total value of gifts on her page is $138,634.28 from 624 donors. Between myself, and now with the loss of my mother, over 590 children will be able to receive surgery. These numbers reflect the impact my mother had on others; she was one of a kind. The community continues to donate knowing how much mother would appreciate it.

After four years of fundraising for Smile Train, this summer I had an extraordinary opportunity to intern for them. For five weeks, I got to live in New York and come to their headquarters office every day for work. It was a special experience to see the network of people work together to maximize the amount of children receiving cleft surgery. I am thankful to have been able to contribute not only from a fundraising side, but also from the business side. I learned about so many different professional roles and skills in the time of my internship. I have been lucky to have had such a great relationship with Smile Train and it is because of all the opportunity they give me to stay involved.

Without a doubt, there are times I wish I did not have to face the challenges that come with cleft. Growing up I had to go to countless amounts of doctor’s appointments whether it was speech therapy, the oral surgeon, or the orthodontist. After nine years of braces, I was convinced they were never coming off. Last summer I endured jaw surgery. To recover, I needed to have my jaw wired shut for six weeks and was unable to speak. I always wonder what it would be like to have a “normal” lip. However, I always remind myself that I was lucky to even have had this treatment. In retrospect, I am thankful I was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate because it is the reason I got involved with Smile Train.

The happiness a fixed smile will bring a child is so empowering and motivating. They will get to attend school, have many friends, and be able to participate in extracurricular activities. Every child deserves those joys in life. There is no doubt that the children around the world who receive their cleft lip and cleft palate repair surgery will go on to live a remarkable life. Smile Train is an incredible international charity that gives three hundred and fifty children and their families an opportunity to live a better life every day.

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.

Mohd Returns Home

Little Mohd at home with his mother (Mummy) and father.

Little Mohd happy at home with his mother (Mummy) and father.

Mohd before

Mohd before

Jodhpur, India–Little Mohd Waris was brought to Raj Dadiji Hospital in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India with a bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate. The hospital staff noticed that Mohd was accompanied by an older woman and not his parents, who would presumably be much younger. Curious, they asked the woman about the boy’s parents and found out that Mohd’s mother was ill-treated by her in-laws because her child was born with a cleft. Due to the pressure from her husband’s family, Mohd’s mother left him with the older woman, his maternal grandmother.

His 55-year-old grandmother had only one thing to say to the Smile Train doctors at Raj Dadiji Hospital, “Make my child look like a healthy normal human being so that he can live with his mother.”

Mohd and his grandmother after surgery.
Mohd and his grandmother after surgery.

The Smile Train team provided Mohd with free cleft surgery and the day after, Mohd’s grandmother visited the hospital with his mother. Mohd’s mothered praised the surgeons, staff, and Smile Train and said, “Now, I can take my child with me.”

The young boy now lives happily with his mother and father, his paternal family accepting him with open arms.