“I like this dentist! He always gives me a lollipop!” The five year old girl gave the red lollipop a huge slurpy lick and then happily grinned up at her Mum. “He just told me funny stories while he fiddled around in my mouth. And then he gave me this,” she cried her blue eyes sparkling as she skipped ahead of her mother.
“And long may it last,” her mother drily exclaimed to the waiting room as she gathering her handbag and keys. “It will be a different case completely when she has to undergo her first filling!”
I looked after the little girl who seemed to sparkle with a radiance all her own. I turned back to the magazine I was reading and flipped the page. Having just been confronted by a beautiful smile on this cherub of a child, I was shocked at what met my gaze.
There before me was the face of a child with a cleft lip. His mouth was distorted. Indeed it didn’t look like a mouth. It was an ugly, misshapen crevasse that had moulded itself under his nose. And his eyes looked hopelessly devoid of life. Helpless. Oh, my heart wept for this child. With a heavy heart I turned the page. There was the child once more. Only different. So unbelievably different. Gone was the ugly crater that had settled beneath his nose. This child had a mouth, a wonderful mouth that was curved into a shy smile.
Glory be, how had that transformation taken place? I read on and that was when I learned about the Smile Train. Apparently every year more than 170 000 children in the developing world are born with cleft lips and/or palates. New shoes are considered a luxury for these children, never mind surgery! Clefts are a major problem in developing countries where it is truly considered a curse. Every baby born in Uganda with a cleft is given the name: Ajok. This literally means: Cursed by the Gods! Some newborns with clefts are literally killed or abandoned at birth.
The Smile Train is an international children’s charity which helps solve a very real problem: cleft lip and palate. Millions of children in developing countries with un-repaired clefts live in shame: ‘Surely she has been struck by a devil!’
More importantly, these children have difficulty eating, breathing and speaking. Cleft repair surgery is simple, and the transformation is immediate. The Smile Train provides training and funding which enables local doctors in 85+ developing countries to provide 100%-free cleft repair surgery in their communities.
This is a wonderful Smile Train story.
Reuny Felix lives deep inside the Amazon Rainforest, hours away from the nearest health facility. It came as a complete surprise when his seventh child was born with a cleft lip, but he felt right away that his newborn son was special — he even named him Reuny Junior!
When Junior tried to drink, the milk would come out through his nose, choking him and leaving him gasping for air. Junior was weak because he was unable to take in the nutrients that he needed.
Reuny also noticed that the children in the village were afraid of Junior. As Junior got older, he thought, the social stigma would only worsen. He feared the children would make jokes at his son’s expense. By the time Junior was two years old, Reuny had saved enough money for a costly boat trip to the nearest government health centre. When they arrived, he was distraught to find out that the remote centre did not have cleft surgeons available. However, they connected him by phone with Smile Train partner Hospital Geral de Benjamin Constant, who offered to send a boat to his village and retrieve Junior for his free cleft surgery.
After the four hour boat journey to the hospital, Reuny said he was overwhelmed, excited, and peaceful all at the same time. “I am so proud of my son for being brave. You have to understand that I’ve had the opportunity to take care of him since the day he was born and he is very special to me.”
When Junior returned from his surgery, his father was delighted at the result. “I couldn’t imagine how much his appearance would change so quickly,” Reuny said emotionally.
Reuny hand fed his son through a syringe exclaiming, “In a few weeks, Junior will be completely healed and he will be able to eat on his own like every other child in our village!”
I smiled at this. What wonderful work the Smile Train is doing. Through social media, I have become good friends with Nisha Varghese. She has acute Cerebral Palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. She never lets this get in the way of her fund raising. She is singleminded in this pursuit which is what I love about her! This year she is trying to raise $6250 for the Smile Train. This will enable 25 cleft palate operations to be performed, one for each year of her life! Nisha knows the importance of smiling at life. So far she has collected $1742.
Smiling is so important.
I am no longer able to drive so I walk everywhere. As a result, I am in constant contact with people. I marvel at the myriad of faces that cross my path. Often I capture someone’s eye and I smile. The eyes that had previously been switched off, suddenly connect and an answering smile appears on the passing face. I like to think of this as a TING moment. I love TING moments. A friend of mine thought she had moved to an incredibly friendly town. In George people seemed to be smiling at her all the time. She realised it was actually a case of her being so happy, that she was smiling more.
The TING was often taking place!
After my 18 metre fall, I was unable to smile. My face was frozen. Ironically, I rubbed ice on my face twice a day to reawaken my facial nerves. Months later, my smile hesitantly appeared.
I got my smile back. The people involved in the Smile Train are going several steps further. They are giving people their smiles.
I smile at that.
To hear Nisha speaking about her fundraising campaign for the Smile Train press here!
To go to Nisha’s Smile Train fundraising page and donate press here!
Photos by kind permission of the Smile Train