The Smile Train: Helping Children With Cleft Lips

The Smile Train is a rare type of charity; they specialize in providing free cleft/palate repair surgery for children in the world's poorest countries, and they do it with only a handful of employees. Their board of directors covers all non-medical costs themselves (believe me when I tell you that's really something), which means 100% of medical donations goes to the child in need. This is a big difference from charities who keep a percentage of your money to keep their operation going. The Smile Train does that bit on their own.

Shiva after her surgery.
Shiva after her surgery.
Shiva before surgery.
Shiva before surgery.

What exactly do they do?

Smile Train teaches local doctors to perform quality surgery on children who need it, and then pays for the surgery itself. The cost is only 250 dollars, and the operation spans about 40 minutes time. And yes, that means for $250, you could change a child's life dramatically.

This is a far cheaper alternative to rounding up American doctors and nurses to make a trip to somewhere like India. And it just makes sense to train a local doctor, so they can branch out and help others who don't come to them via Smile Train.

And it's not just a cosmetic thing - if you've ever cared for person with a cleft lip, you'll know basic tasks like eating and drinking turn into humiliating ordeals. Try drinking a glass of milk with your mouth open and you'll see what I mean. Life is bad enough in poverty, without having to add this kind of impediment to it.

Walter Cronkite On The Smile Train

Yi Yun smiling.
Yi Yun smiling.

What happens if they don't get the surgery?

A lot of these kids are seen as bad omens in their villages, and many relatives will try to convince parents to abandon them. As shocking as that sounds, you'll be even more stunned to hear that many parents actually do it. When found, they end up in orphanages and are then subject to even greater discrimination by their peers. Not really hard to imagine, when you consider how unkind children can be.

Yi Yun before surgery.
Yi Yun before surgery.

What if I can't afford $250?

$250 is certainly a lot of money for many people. If you can't afford a lump sum payment, you can join Smile Train's Smile of the Month club, and give them permission to deduct a specified amount from your bank account or credit card each month.

You can pay online, and you can do so in dollars or sterling. Even if you can't afford $250, anything you could offer would be helpful, and you can feel good about knowing 100% of it will go to the children who need it. If you think you can help a child in this situation, please donate whatever you can afford.

Candice Bergen On Behalf of The Smile Train

Celebs Born with Cleft Lips

  • Doc Holliday
  • Jesse Jackson
  • Cheech Marin
  • Stacey Keach
  • Tim Lott
  • Michael Helm
  • Rita MacNeil
  • Wendy Harmer

Supporters of Smile Train:

  • Walter Cronkite
  • Candace Bergen
  • Former President Bush
  • Tom Brokaw
  • Alex Trebek
  • Lily Tomlin
  • Jane Kaczmarek
  • Bette Midler
  • Donald Trump

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Comments 21 comments

vslandego profile image

vslandego 4 years ago from Canada

I never heard about Smile Train until now :) These Children need help. My nephew was born with a complete cleft palate. You can watch his journey on my hub. His Smile will help create smiles :D

Willow2438 5 years ago

How my heart breaks for these children. For many years I have contributed to our vets and know they need our help. The sacrifices they have given for us is undeniable and I will continue to do everything I can for them. This Christmas I have decided to donate a surgery for a chid. Instead of giving Christmas presents to family members (who already have everything any way) my money will be put to better use and bring a smile to a child's face. When I think of a baby being left on the side of a road to die, my heart truly dies a little at a time. I'm not getting religious, but I thank God I can afford to do this at this time. And I have to say, "It truly feels so good to know I can help some else." Maybe there are a lot of others (if they really think about it) that could help someone else even if it's not this particular organization but someone in need. Maybe a food donation to a family in need down the street? Or a warm coat you don't wear very much any more? Just a thought. willow2438

julia 5 years ago

thanks for fixing my sister !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Christian  6 years ago

Smile train reconfirms my faith in humanity daily, simply by reading article after article. There's a reason why so many celebrities across the globe are joining forces with them.

Cheryl 6 years ago

I was born with a cleft palate and cleft lip (unilateral). I want to be able to donate so badly to this organization, but would they take a $10 monthly donation? That's all I can afford in this economy. If I could win the lottery, I'd give them half of it! People just don't realize how mean, hateful, vindictive, cruel, heartless and shallow people can be. I grew up being teased, humiliated, and tormented because I looked 'different'. That crap stays with you into your adult years (I'm 35 now).

trish1048 profile image

trish1048 8 years ago

Hi Isabella,

My dear mother was born with both the harelip and cleft palate.  She was born in 1927, and she endured more operations than you can shake a stick at.  Back then, they used to drip the anesthesia into your mouth, and sadly, it ruined her teeth as well.  The good news is, by the time she was in her teens, although her voice sounded 'different', she could be understood, and looked 'normal'.  Her personality was amazing, and she never lacked for dates, even though, deep inside, she suffered terrible self-esteem.  She quit school in 10th grade (and she was an A student) because she was teased so horribly by a lot of kids who were just downright mean and didn't understand.  I never knew she even had a speech defect until I was in my teens, she had to tell me.  A conversation came up and I couldn't believe what she was saying, because to me she sounded like anyone else.  My guess is that because she raised me, I was so accustomed to her voice it sounded totally normal.  Odd,,

I asked her once why she never had another child, and her reply was that she didn't want to risk having a child born with the same condition. She said I came out 'perfect' (in her eyes lol), so that was it.

As far as the hereditary issue, I'm out on that one.  When I married and wanted children, I asked the doctor what were my chances of having a child born with this condition, he, at the time, said something like 1 in 500.  I proceeded to have two children who escaped the condition.

Thanks so much for this wonderful hub and spreading the word of this wonderful organization.


flutterbug77 profile image

flutterbug77 8 years ago from USA

I'm so glad this Charity is getting more attention. Great Hub. What I like is that 100% of your donation goes to help these children.

Fretbuzz 9 years ago

I saw a documentary about this awhile back. It is awesome what they do. Some places they go aren't exactly safe but they go anyway.

Veronica profile image

Veronica 9 years ago from NY

I had no idea it was such an affordable donation to make, to make such a difference in a child's life. Thanks for the info.

BTW, I miss Walter Cronkite. Did I just date myself?

Isabella Snow profile image

Isabella Snow 9 years ago Author

Zuz - Yes, its really a struggle and I hope maybe some awareness and maybe even some donations will come from people reading this. :)

Eileen - Thanks! I'm glad you agree with me. :)

Jules - Thanks, and me, too! :)

BlessedM - Thanks! And I hope they do! :)

Stacie - Thank you, I do too! :)

RW - Thank you, twice! :)

Patty - I hope others agree with you! Thank you! :)

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 9 years ago from North America

For people that want new Year's resolutions, becoming active in this effort would be perfect! Thanks for this Hub!

Rapidwriter profile image

Rapidwriter 9 years ago from UK

Great hub, Isabella. And wow, what a voice!

Stacie Naczelnik profile image

Stacie Naczelnik 9 years ago from Seattle

Wonderful awareness! Thank you for spreading it. I've read about this before - I hope more children are helped because of your hub.

blessedmommy profile image

blessedmommy 9 years ago from Oklahoma City Metro, Oklahoma

Excellent hub, Isabella. $250.00 seems like pennies when I take into consideration the precious lives that will benefit. Thanks for the information and for spreading the word.

julescarter profile image

julescarter 9 years ago from Cambridge, MA

Very nice hub on a sad problem we should all know about. I hope more children around the world are able to go through harelip surgery.

Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 9 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Brilliant hub and for a really good cause. It is so hard for people in the poorer countries. It annoys me when some people go to those countries and see how they live yet still come back home and moan and winge for nothing.

We all need a wake up call like this to realise how lucky we are. Actually I saw an article on this on TV recently. The doctors and nurses do a really brilliant job.

Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Isabella! I was told by a dear friend that the cleft palette was a hereditary thing, her daughter was born with it and so were both her grandchildren. (Here in Canada naturally they had their operation as soon as possible). It is really a tough condition to live with. So much in life is so much harder, such as comprehensive speech and as you said simple things like eating and drinking become a chore.

Thank you for this HUB it really points out where we can help

regards Zsuzsy

Isabella Snow profile image

Isabella Snow 9 years ago Author

Coolbreeze - Thank you, and I agree! :)

coolbreeze profile image

coolbreeze 9 years ago from Hawaii

Nice hub Isabella, I would say out of all the surgeries I helped with Cleft pallet cases were some of the most rewarding. Its nice to help children.

Isabella Snow profile image

Isabella Snow 9 years ago Author

Kenny - Yes, it's awful for self-esteem..glad your friend was able to have surgery. And its still called a harelip, cleft lip is just the medical term. :)

Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 9 years ago from Chennai

I once had a friend who was this way. They called it a harelip then. Now he smiles pretty! They have to be treated before they grow up and it messes up their confidence.

Thank you for tellng us about them and passing the word.

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