Changing the world… one smile at a time

by Gabrielle Borromeo
(Manila City, Philippines)

Monday, 20 August 2012
Published in Daily Tribune Life Style

Anyone who comes across something broken tries to fix it as soon as possible. Many, however, do not have the same reaction when a person has a cleft lip or palate. In the Philippines, the medical community is one in saying that an operation must be done as soon as possible to fix the cleft.

A cleft lip and a cleft palate are some of the many problems of a craniofacial abnormality. Most of those who suffer from these also have a hard time eating and speaking. Sad to say, they are also more prone to criticism and judgment because of their looks and their lack of ability to speak well.

Some of the children who have craniofacial abnormalities are too ashamed to step out into the light, while others who are able to attend school are constantly teased and bullied by other children, resulting also in stepping back into the darkness to isolate themselves.

Any child that goes through bullying can really have a hard time getting back their confidence because of the trauma that may haunt them for the rest of their lives. These children who have so much potential in them are suddenly too scared to finish school and in the future will have a very hard time looking for a decent job.

The heartache and pain will not only be carried by the afflicted person, but by their families as well. Their families all dream for a brighter future, but for them a semblance of normality is the most they hope for.

In a world that seems to have lost itself in the artifice of beauty, Smile Train comes in to help people afflicted with cleft lips or palates to help them become part of the greater population with more ease and less stigma.

Smile Train is one of the leading cleft charities in the world that offers surgery to Filipinos in underserved communities year-round for the past 12 years completely free of charge.

“We are not a stitch-to-go medical mission. We provide the most comprehensive care based on world class standards,” clarifies Glenda de Villa, who is the Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation Philippines Inc. president and oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

The operation that Smile Train provides won’t leave you hanging on a thin rope. In fact, it does the opposite. Smile Train is a charity that asks for nothing in return. Even the medications are free pre- and post-operation. Speech therapy is offered until adulthood to help the child assimilate into his community and the professional or vocational field of his choice.

With Smile Train, each child from a marginalized family can be given all the cleft treatment and care needed. For those who are not destitute but is suffering from the same medical condition, they can visit and consult with Smile Train and its partners also free of charge.

Until today, Smile Train still aims to reach more patients across the country because it has built itself as a solid organization that grows its resources, thus helping more and more people as well. Smile Train consists of a global network that has thousands of partner hospitals and participating surgeons who provide more than 115,000 free surgeries each year for patients in their own communities, even far-flung places in the Philippines.

“It has been Smile Train’s lifelong commitment to help children born with clefts all over the world, and the Philippines is one of the countries where we hope to make much headway in this undertaking,” said Priscilla Ma, executive director, Smile Train.

“We estimate that there are 4,500 Filipinos born with a cleft annually, on top of the over 120,000 Filipinos with unrepaired clefts to date,” Ma continues.

On the other hand, Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation
Philippines Inc. (NCFPI) is a non-profit organization that is comprised of doctors and other professionals that invites local partners to promote awareness on the need for comprehensive and quality care for Filipinos, especially the indigents.

NCFPI has received support from World Craniofacial Foundation, TECO, Help Wirhelfen-Germany and Smile Train. NCFPI, as a partner of Smile Train, invites local partners to promote awareness on the need for comprehensive and quality cleft care for Filipinos.

NCFPI is inspired by the “love makes whole” ideals of Dr. M. Samuel Noordhoff, the renowned American surgeon and philanthropist.

Awareness is definitely very important because there are children all over the world who were born with a cleft lip(bingot), a cleft palate (ngongo) and other craniofacial abnormalities. In the Philippines, one in every 500 Filipinos is born with a cleft. Parents who don’t attend to these problems as soon as possible subject their children to social ignorance and discrimination when, in fact, these handicap situations can be solved right away.

The earlier the operation is done the better as all the physical and social ails the cleft lip or palate brings are remedied. Even a two-day-old baby can be given a nasoalveolar molding device (NAM) by craniofacial orthodontists to prepare the child for surgery. In three months, provided that the child is healthy and within the normal weight, an operation can be successfully undertaken.

People don’t need to go through life with broken smiles and broken dreams because of their unattended cleft. Technology and intelligence have provided the world with a remedy to address it. Now a simple surgery that may take as little as 45 minutes is possible. A child need not suffer the feeling of inferiority complex, discrimination, rejection and the harsh judgments of people for years when in just several hours of surgery, an operation can change their lives forever.

Smile Train has really done a lot to make a difference in the world. It’s a charity that gives benefits to those who truly need it and just by this, I guess I understood what “love makes whole” meant to them.

Touched by their movement, somehow it made me imagine myself in the shoes of the kids suffering craniofacial problems. I never want them to feel ugly on the outside and hopeless in the inside. I know what it’s like to dream of being a princess growing up, and surely I don’t want them to lose that dream as well. I want them to believe and to keep believing that better things can happen.

Just like Smile Train, we can each make a mark in this world by giving back. We can start by visiting these kids, inspiring them with stories, helping them up by boosting their confidence and even hold a party where they all dress in gowns and tuxedos. We can make them feel special; certainly, reaching out to them would be memorable.

Smile Train offices are also located in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, USA and Vietnam.

To find out more about Smile Train and its partners, interested parties may call or send a message to 0917-52-TRAIN (87246). For more information on how to refer a patient or become involved as a sponsor, donor or volunteer, contact the executive director at (632)468-6449 or mobile number 0917-9908717. Visit

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