Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mercy Ships and The Smile Train

Oscar before surgery

Serro, another cleft patient.
One of my favorite things about working in communications is getting to meet interesting people. Last week, I interviewed a representative from the Smile Train. The Smile Train is dedicated to the eradication of cleft lips and palates. Through a global network of partners, in ten years they have sponsored more than 500,000 surgeries worldwide. All of this has been accomplished with a staff of only 42 people. It's really impressive.
Clefts have always been my favorite surgeries. It's amazing to see the total transformation which occurs in only a few hours.
Here is the story I wrote about Mercy Ships and the Smile Train.

Smile Train Representative Visits the Africa Mercy

Ten-year-old Oscar didn’t like going to school.

“The other kids teased me because of my lip. When they teased me, I felt very bad,” he said. Living with a cleft lip, he regularly experienced rejection.

Born in a developing country, Oscar had never received corrective surgery. Members of his community believed his cleft was caused by a spiritual curse. “When Oscar was born, some people thought the child was a bad spirit and said I should abandon him,” said his mother, Florentine. Millions of children in the developing world share his stigma.

But today, Oscar is smiling. Through the financial sponsorship of The Smile Train, he received free corrective surgery on the Africa Mercy. His suffering has ended.
The Smile Train is a charity dedicated to the eradication of cleft lips and cleft palates. Through a network of global partnerships, they provide free cleft surgery to millions of children in developing countries. In the past decade, they have sponsored surgeries for more than 500,000 children worldwide. Additionally, they provide free cleft-related training for doctors and medical professionals.

Mercy Ships has partnered with The Smile Train since 2006. “We contacted The Smile Train, letting them know who Mercy Ships is and what we do, and they asked for a grant proposal,” said Director of Resource Development, Grant MacLean. “They then made a pledge of 1.2 million dollars to sponsor the cleft surgeries we perform onboard.” Each time a patient receives a cleft repair surgery on the Africa Mercy, The Smile Train reimburses Mercy Ships 250 dollars.

“Originally, based on cleft lip/palate statistics, we anticipated performing enough surgeries to utilize the entire grant in 8 to 10 years. But we haven’t encountered the number of patients we expected,” said MacLean. “Statistics don’t always take into account the reality of what happens here. Many babies with clefts are discarded at birth. Others have difficulty eating and starve to death. They are widespread and devastating problems,” he concluded.
Sadly, in West Africa it is commonly believed that clefts are caused by spiritual curses. This distorted worldview is a major obstacle children face.

“The culture and worldview play a huge part in why many of these children are not getting treated,” said Remi Adeseun, Regional Director of West Africa for The Smile Train. “In some places, the options are so dire, it’s not about getting treated or not getting treated. It’s about living or dying.”

Remi Adeseun recently visited the Africa Mercy. As Regional Director, he is responsible for building and managing partnerships, as well as increasing the number of children The Smile Train reaches.

During Adeseun’s visit to the Africa Mercy, he strategized with Mercy Ships on ways to increase the number of cleft lip and palate patients brought to the Africa Mercy during future field services. Both Mercy Ships and The Smile Train hope to increase the number of children helped through their partnership in the future.

“We have realized what children with clefts are up against. We want to work with The Smile Train to discover how we can make a bigger impact. It could be through feeding programs that will help babies with cleft survive. Or through support programs that help parents overcome cultural and worldview bias. We’ve also discussed possibly having a nationwide campaign for clefts to find more patients,” said MacLean. In the future, Mercy Ships and the Smile Train will continue partnering together, integrating strengths and resources to bring healing into the lives of children.

“Partnerships are the primary outlet for Smile Train to deliver on its goals,” said Adeseun. “We identify people who share the values of professionalism and compassion for these children, who don’t see them just as numbers or statistics, but as individuals whose lives make a difference. We don’t do anything on our own. Mercy Ships is a valued partner we are grateful to have.”

There are millions of children, like Oscar, who are waiting to smile. Together, Mercy Ships and The Smile Train are committed to making those smiles a reality.

1 comment:

taihapedude said...

Hi Megan!

I like the story - your gift in action!

El Roi (the God who sees) does see all that you are doing, thinking and feeling.

Thank you.