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The Smile Train: Helping Children With Cleft Lips

Updated on January 27, 2017

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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