WORLD Smile Day® is a day devoted to smiles and acts of kindness. Taking place this year on 5th October, the day provides the perfect opportunity for communities across the globe to join together and celebrate the power of a smile.
However, this international awareness day also brings to mind our friends around the world who have difficulty sharing in the joy of a smile, as a result of an untreated cleft.
For the majority of people in the UK, the ability to ‘flash a smile’ can sometimes be taken for granted. Throughout much of the developing world, the situation is very different, as many children living with untreated clefts are unable to eat, speak, or breathe properly. Because of these differences, children are often denied access to schooling, are unable to hold down a job, and are isolated by their peers.
In response to this global issue, at Smile Train we work to empower local medical professionals in 85+ countries to provide 100%-free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care in their own communities. This sustainable approach enables children to receive quality and safe cleft care 365 days a year – which is truly lifesaving.
Joseph Gatchalian from the Philippines is one of these children:
“My father and older brother were also born with cleft lips, but they both had surgery when they were much younger. They had unilateral cleft lips, which means their clefts were only on one side of their lips.
“I was born with a bilateral cleft lip, which means both sides of my mouth did not fuse together properly. This came as a surprise to my mother, and she felt that it was much worse than my father’s and brother’s conditions.
“My mother tried to get help for me when I was small, but things did not work out. She brought me to hospitals when she knew that doctors from other countries were visiting on mission trips. Unfortunately, I was always sick and couldn’t receive surgery as the mission groups were only present for short periods of time and then left. As a result, my mother became very discouraged and stopped trying.
“I was determined to receive surgery, and hoped I would have it in time for my High School graduation, but again – I was sick. Finally, a few months after I graduated, we learned about Smile Train’s free surgery at a nearby local hospital. We were both relieved as my mother did not believe it would be so easy.
“There was a huge impact on my life following my cleft surgery. Before the surgery, every time I stepped out of the house people would stare at me. Every time, people would bully me. My mother did not want me to go to school because she would get hurt when she heard people calling me names. But she knew I had to go to school – so she went with me. She sat outside my classroom and waited for me the whole day. I did not tell her, because she might have stopped me from going to school, but when she was not looking people would still call me names.’
“After the surgery, I felt like a weight was lifted off of me. I would walk outside and no one would look at me anymore. They treated me like a normal person.
“A lot has changed since my surgery. For one thing, I can go out of the house without fear of being teased. Now, I can speak in front of many people. I became confident – confident enough to apply for a job working at one of the biggest call centre companies in the Philippines. Now, I can help my family. I am not a burden to them. I would say to children or worried parents that are about to watch their children undergo surgery that you have to be strong and everything will be OK. You should be ready for the BIG changes in your lives. There will be so many positive changes!”
This year, why not celebrate World Smile Day® by joining us in Creating Smiles? Visit our website here to see how you can get involved – http://smiletrain.org.uk/wsd