Sara Rezk, from Fairfax VA is a mother of two, and her youngest, Seleem, was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate. Here’s what the Power Of A Smile means to her.
If you could give one piece of advice to a child with cleft what would it be?
CELEBRATE WHO YOU ARE! You are amazing children who will have to go through some additional hardships in life. The cleft you were born with does not define who you can or cannot be. Find your passion and run with it.
If you could give one piece of advice to another parent whose child was born with cleft what would it be?
With all the madness and emotions that come with a cleft diagnosis, hang in there. One day you will look back and miss your little one’s wide smile so much! This whole journey will not only empower you as parents, it will have a lasting impact on the family as a whole.
What makes you smile?
Seeing my child being so brave. Nothing gets in his way! At just 2, he is already inspiring so many people around him.
What did your child being born with a cleft teach you about life?
That we really shouldn’t just see people at face value. This is a very diverse world and we need to embrace everyone around us, whether a different culture, appearance, life style, beliefs or religion.
What does the “Power of a Smile” mean to you/ why do you think it’s so important?
Power of a Smile means hope and connection!
What has the “Power of a Smile” done for you in your life?
It has broken barriers and given me the chance to get to know so many amazing people.
Goizom Danza Maleguidjeo’s name translates to “disappeared from the face of the Earth” in her native language in Cameroon. Unfortunately for Goizom, this is not far off from how she spent her childhood. She could not attend school or play with other children her age because of the fear from local parents in her village that she would bewitch their children.
It is a tradition in Goizom’s Mafa tribe for families to send their first daughter into marriage when they turn 16, but this was not the case for Goizom. At age 18, she still lived at home with no suitor, or any friends to talk to. The men in her village believed that since Goizom was born with a cleft, all of her future children would have clefts as well.
Goizom’s life changed one day when a Smile Train community worker came to her village. When the community worker announced that Smile Train helps provide free surgery for children with clefts, Goizom couldn’t believe the news. She knew her parents could not afford the financial cost of a surgery to fix her cleft and she had given up on her dream of having her cleft repaired a long time ago.
When Goizom arrived at Smile Train’s local partner, Maroua Regional hospital, she was surprised to see so many people who had similar cleft conditions as her own. She watched as patients would go in and out of surgery and was amazed by the great new smiles on their faces. When her turn finally arrived, she was ready. 18 long years of waiting for a new smile were finally over.
Today Goizom has returned to her village a completely changed person, proud of herself and full of self-confidence. No longer “disappeared from the face of the Earth,” she is looking forward to her bright future that is now full of endless possibilities.
On April 24, 2015 Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Columbia South Carolina held its 9th Mini-Marathon for Smile Train. Physical Education teacher and real-world Smile Train super hero Thomas Cronin, who was born with a cleft lip and palate, hosts the event every year. He says that he feels so fortunate that he was able to receive surgery when he was a child, and his hope is that every child born with a cleft is able to have the same opportunities for a healthy and productive life that he was given.
On the day of the event each grade level (Kindergarten through Fifth grade) runs and walks for 30 minutes on the school’s outdoor track. This year, the event raised a total of $13,090 for Smile Train. This is enough to provide surgery for 52 children with cleft lips and palates.
Smile Train’s Mini Marathon has become a tradition at Pleasant Hill Elementary School. This year, Smile Train’s own Director, Program Development, Shannon Lambert, got to attend the event, walk around the track with some students, and answer student questions. She said some of the most common questions were “How many surgeries did Smile Train help provide last year?” and “How long does it take to complete a surgery?” One student, a young boy, shared a story with Shannon about his cousin that lives in Guadalajara, Mexico who was born with a cleft. His cousin didn’t have transportation to get to a treatment facility, so the little boy’s family in South Carolina drove to Mexico to bring the boy to the hospital for surgery.
Overall, Pleasant Hill Elementary School’s Smile Train Mini Marathon gives the students a chance to learn more about a meaningful cause, and how something as simple as a smile can change a life, all while getting fit at the same time.
Grainne McElhone, a former cleft patient, donated her 30th birthday to Smile Train. We recently had the chance to ask her some questions.
How did you become involved with Smile Train and why?
A few years ago I spoke to a doctor who happened to be a Smile Train supporter. Up until that point, I didn’t know much about Smile Train so I did some research and decided I wanted to help This was when I came up with the idea of a sponsored birthday… my 30th was coming up and I thought it would be the best way to celebrate it!
What motivates you to keep supporting Smile Train?
Following my research into the charity, it made me appreciate how lucky and fortunate I was to receive the care that I did. It made me realise that many children and adults in developing countries may not get the opportunity to have their clefts repaired without the support of Smile Train.
How did you support Smile Train?
To celebrate my 30th birthday this year I held a coffee morning in lieu of gifts from friends and family. I asked them for a donation to Smile Train, in which I was able to raise over £1,900, an amount I was overwhelmed with and could not have reached without a lot of help from my family and friends.
What makes you Smile?
Friends and family always make me smile and laugh, going for cocktails, new clothes and random acts of kindness. Receiving and giving always wins a smile!
Why do you give to Smile Train?
To give someone else the smile that I was lucky enough to get.
Mamta Carrol, Regional Director of South Asia Programs talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her.
What first inspired you to work with / support Smile Train?
The transformational nature of what Smile Train does, the scale, intensity and range of its work and the enduring impact it makes in individual lives, the lives of entire families and the attitudes of communities, is unmatched. In the developing world societal prejudices driven by superstitions and entrenched attitudes prevent children with clefts and their families from leading normal lives. My work at Smile Train allows me to make a very tangible and real impact on ground.
How has your involvement with Smile Train made you look at the Power Of A Smile differently?
A smile is instinctive, natural and effortless for almost everyone. Each smile reminds me of the many who have trouble smiling, the magnitude of what we have accomplished and have yet to accomplish. The most fulfilling smile is the smile of our patients after surgery. It radiates the possibilities that our work opens up for these children.
What keeps you involved in Smile Train?
The sheer significance and impact of what Smile Train does makes me feel blessed in contributing – this is a life-changing gift for entire families. It has imbued me with a passion to transform lives. It has gone beyond the definition of a job to become my mission. An article of faith with a higher and more enduring goal in life. Far more enriching than a conventional corporate career and far more satisfying.
Sichuan Province, China – The arrival of a new baby typically brings a lot of happiness to a family, but when little Jiaxin was born with a cleft lip and palate the Yangs knew they wouldn’t be able to afford surgery for their child. To get Jiaxin the help she needed the family moved to Chengdu in hopes that the city would have better medical facilities.
To survive in their new city, Jiaxin’s father worked doing manual labor at a construction site, and her grandmother and grandfather worked long hours every day to make extra money for the family. All of the hard work was worth it when the Yangs found out that Smile Train’s local partner hospital, West China College of Stomatology Sichuan University, would be able to give Jiaxin the help she needed.
Jiaxin, with the help of Smile Train, began her journey to a new smile with free cleft lip surgery. Since her surgery, Jiaxin’s family said they now have a new sense of hope and a more positive attitude in their own lives.
Today, 2-year-old Jiaxin is a lovely and lively girl who loves to laugh and talk.
In March 2015, Jiaxin met Smile Train’s CEO, Susannah Schaefer, along with Shi Bing, Vice President of West China Stomatology Hospital of Sichuan University, and Dr. Shell Xue, Senior Vice President and Regional Director of Smile Train North Asia. Susannah was in China supporting the local nurses at a special training conference. Susannah’s advice to little Jiaxin was to continue to have the confidence to overcome difficulties and to embrace her new life.
Jiaxin’s mother is very grateful to Smile Train for giving Jiaxin the ability to be like the other children, and a second chance at life. She said that Smile Train not only gave them financial help, but also brought hope to them and an opportunity for a brighter future.
Smile Train supporter Peggy Kamphausen recently shared a heartwarming story of how her now late mother, at 94 years old, wanted to get a job to help a special Smile Train patient. Below is the story in Peggy’s own words.
I took care of my parents when they were 94 years old. While my mother’s mind wasn’t always clear, her beautiful heart continued to feel. She saw a magazine ad for Smile Train with pictures of children before their clefts were repaired. She managed to tell me she wanted to get a job so she could afford to help the cleft children. With tears in her eyes, she pointed to the picture of the most severely affected little boy, “Him…I have to help him!” she said.
My beautiful mom and dad have passed away now, but every Christmas I honor her request. In my adult children’s Christmas stockings, I place a note that $250 has been donated in their Grandma and Grandpa’s memory to help a child. It is our special Christmas tradition.
There is peace and warmth in a smile. To me the Power Of A Smile is a universal language that instantly connects one heart to another. God bless everyone at Smile Train for the amazing work that they do. And for helping me to fulfill my mother’s longing to help.