By Kristelle Bechayda
Asmile really does make a difference. If there is one gesture that is more powerful than words, a warm grin is already enough to lift one’s emotions and brighten up his day. International cleft charity Smile Train is a believer of this. To celebrate the recently held World Smile Day, it partnered with Aboitiz Foundation for a fun-filled afternoon dedicated to several of its children beneficiaries.
“Our objective is really to raise awareness about what we do. We’re hoping that we’d be able to reach more patients, so anybody who was born with a cleft [lip or palate] and cannot afford surgery will know that Smile Train is here to help them,” says Kimmy Flaviano who is the Southeast Asia director of Smile Train.
Help within reach
Since its establishment in the Philippines in 2001, the organization has helped more than 60,000 beneficiaries, giving them a chance at successful cleft surgeries and providing for their needs during recovery.
One of them is 40-year-old Maricel Teylan and her daughter Francheska Mae. Ten years ago, Maricel found out her youngest child was born with a cleft palate. She wasted no time seeking the treatment her daughter needed. Through an anesthesiologist, who was a volunteer at Smile Train, Maricel was able to avail its services and got her daughter operated on in 2010.
Maricel’s efforts were not just purely out of maternal concern. She was born with a cleft lip which was operated on at a much later age of six. Having experienced the hardships of this condition, she didn’t want her daughter to also suffer from them. “Ginawa ko kasi sa sarili ko before, naranas ko rin iyon. Kaya nung nakita namin siya na may ganito rin sa akin, talagang hinanapan ko ng way na ma-operahan siya ng mas maaga, na maisara agad namin yung cleft palate niya (I experienced this, too, so when I saw that my daughter also had cleft palate, I didn’t waste any time having it operated on,)” she says.
With about 50 partner hospitals nationwide and local on-call doctors, Smile Train has made its services accessible in different parts of the country. “They don’t have to travel too far to be able to avail of the services and if a child has cleft lip or a cleft palate, then we also provide speech therapy which is aftercare because they may need speech therapy for the next year or year and a half,” Kimmy says, adding that they also provide nutrition programs, orthodontic treatments, and psychosocial support.
Kindness is the key
Now a bubbly 12-year-old, Francheska smiles brightly at anyone she meets, but her journey hasn’t been an easy one even after her operation. Maricel says her daughter was often bullied while growing up. This can be a painful experience for both mother and child.
“Noong time na nag-aaral na siya, na bully siya. Nung elementary, uuwi siya sa bahay umiiyak. Sabi namin, huwag niyang pansinin iyon kasi hindi nila naiintindihan iyong case niya (When she was still in school she was bullied, we told her not to mind them),” says Maricel.
Instead of getting the bullies suspended, this hands-on mom made it a point to talk to them by explaining Francheska’s situation and encouraging them to look beyond her condition. Maricel also instills a positive mindset to her daughter and frequently reminds her to look at the bright side.
As difficult as this condition may be, Maricel advises parents to be consistent in their child’s medical needs from laboratory check-ups, down to their speech therapy sessions after the operation.
Meanwhile, Smile Train isn’t only after comprehensive care. They also wish to promote an inclusive atmosphere for their beneficiaries, one where they are seen for who they are and not what their appearances dictate. “We want to spread kindness and we hope the main message is to be kind to everyone regardless of who they are, what they look like, what their circumstances are,” Kimmy says.