At Smile Train, our sustainable ‘teach a man to fish’ model has enabled us to support individuals in over 90 countries with cleft treatment and care over the last 21 years.
Through our unique model, we have trained over 2,100 medical professionals at over 1,100 partner hospitals around the world, providing them with the resources and tools to support people with cleft in their local communities.
To date, we have supported more than 1.5 million cleft surgeries all over the world. As we celebrate 15 years of Smile Train UK, we’re looking at 15 of the countries where Smile Train works with local medical partners and featuring just a few of the many people who have benefited from our work.
Smile Train has over 130 partner hospitals in India, which has resulted in over 600,000 cleft surgeries to date. Some people hold harmful superstitions about what causes clefts, making it common for babies with clefts to be rejected by their families. One child whose life was changed by Smile Train is Rajesh, whose parents had never seen a cleft before their son was born and were concerned that they couldn’t afford treatment. As a result of receiving surgery from Smile Train, Rajesh is an active and rambunctious fourth-grader who loves to play.
Our local partner in the Amazon, Instituto Yaçuri da Amazônia, has helped provide children from indigenous Amazonian communities with vital cleft care. Alongside rehabilitating cleft lip and palate surgeries, our partner provides crucial education, speech therapy, and nutritional information enabling children to continue to thrive post-operation.
When Soan’s baby Sel was born with a cleft, she was concerned he would face discrimination. Sel’s cleft meant that he also struggled to eat, causing him to become severely underweight. Fortunately, Sel was able to receive free surgery from one of Smile Train’s local medical partners to treat his cleft. Now, he’s an adventurous boy who excels at school.
4. Democratic Republic of the Congo
Nkunda was born with a cleft in a remote village and would hide in the bushes on his way to school due to the incessant bullying he experienced, resulting in his mother pulling him out of education altogether. Nkunda and his mother found out that Smile Train was sponsoring cleft surgeries at the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and were relieved that Nkunda was able to receive treatment from the medical team there at no cost. Thanks to these local healthcare providers and Smile Train’s support, he was able to get back into school.
Gracee’s bullying stopped after she received a cleft surgery sponsored by Smile Train, which has allowed her confidence to grow. Gracee is now dedicated to serving others as a perioperative nurse at a local partner hospital, helping the children who face the same challenges she once faced.
In 2021, Smile Train Indonesia, the Indonesian Plastic Surgery Association, and the Indonesian National Police made history after safely performing 750 cleft surgeries in just six days!
Maria had been waiting for cleft surgery for years, often avoiding community events because of the perception others had of her. Thankfully, Maria met a health worker from a Smile Train partner hospital who told her that she could receive free treatment. Now, she can’t stop showing off her beautiful smile.
As babies with clefts often can’t latch on to feed – putting them at a severe and often deadly risk of malnutrition – Cristina, a leading nutritionist, joined forces with an Argentinian Smile Train partner hospital. Cristina provides families with nutritional support and child development plans, changing the story of their lives forever.
Dr. Amanda Malungo is a plastic, reconstructive, and aesthetic surgeon who has become the first female plastic surgeon in Zambia after earning a Smile Train-sponsored scholarship. Dr. Malungo is now an active Smile Train partner who hopes to create a cleft centre in Zambia for comprehensive care.
Dr. Jamie Meza, a local dentist, noticed that cleft patients struggle to eat, speak or sleep, so partnered with Smile Train to make a difference. Inspired by Smile Train’s ‘teach a man to fish’ model, Dr. Meza reached out to other dentists to educate them on cleft care to help those hopeful to find their smile.
Wang Li was the first recipient of Smile Train-sponsored cleft surgery in China and was transformed from a shy, introverted girl to a strong, spirited woman with a loving family.
There was a time when being born with a cleft in many parts of Nigeria was a death sentence. This was due to beliefs from many respected tribal and religious leaders that clefts are caused by witchcraft. To challenge this perception and let communities know that clefts are treatable through safe and accessible surgical care, the cleft team at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and Smile Train launched the first Cleft Week in Nigeria.
Cristina Solano struggled to receive support from her local community after finding out that her son would be born with a cleft – that was until she met Dr. Pablo Dávalos who successfully treated her son’s condition. Cristina wanted to help other families affected by cleft and worked with Dr. Dávalos to offer other patients emotional support on the day of their surgery. Dr. Dávalos became a Smile Train partner and started Hospital de Día Niños de la Mano de María — the only hospital in Quito concentrated solely on cleft lip and palate. Cristina has since held speech services at the hospital and is now studying for a degree in speech therapy.
Angelica was 15 years old when she gave birth to a baby with a cleft. Unsure how to care for her baby’s condition, Angelica sought help at FISULAB, one of Smile Train’s local partners in Colombia. The medical team at FISULAB taught Angelica how to properly feed her son. He received the surgeries he needed to help him eat, breathe, and smile his best. Now that he is older, he also receives regular speech therapy.
Bulgaria is one of the few EU countries where cleft treatment is not fully covered by the government. Metodi and his wife Dasha knew how lucky they were to receive cleft treatment for their son from the Bulgarian Association for Facial Anomalies (ALA), a Smile Train partner. Now, Medoti wants to ensure that every Bulgarian knows what a cleft is and that support is available through ALA and Smile Train. To spread the word, Metodi teamed up with two friends to organise the first-annual Run with a Smile event – a series of two races through the mountains- to raise national awareness of the charity.
To learn more about Smile Train UK or to make a donation, please visit: smiletrain.org.uk.