Let’s face it, strong women truly do make the world go ’round!
We shudder to think of where we’d be without all the hardworking friends, mothers, leaders, wives, and sisters of the world. So in honor of International Women’s Day, we are celebrating 11 heroes who have devoted their lives to helping others. More precisely, they’re working tirelessly every day to bring equal rights and opportunities to children with clefts.
1. “I eventually came to accept that you can’t run away from something that is a part of you. You have to face it. That realization was the first step on a journey of self-love that led me to discover my own inner voice, and with it, my inner joy — joy not just in my self, but also in my body, and even in my cleft.”
Growing up with a cleft and a genetic condition called Peter’s Anomaly, Iva was often bullied. She agonized over the question of why she was born the way she was, but eventually, she realized she had to embrace her differences and accept what she couldn’t change in order to truly love herself!
Now 30 years old, Iva has gone from a child afraid to speak to a certified motivational speaker, a cleft confidence coach, and the founder and CEO of her own company. Every day she helps teens and young adults stand up to bullies and find — and love! — their own unique voices.
2. “The treatment I provide for the children as a dentist is like a dream come true. It’s like helping them fulfill their dreams and meet their expectations.”
Argentinian dental professionals Silvia and Marisa are great at what they do, but they have always dreamed of lending their dental and orthodontic skills to families who can’t afford to pay. After Smile Train arranged to sponsor their work, they were finally able to donate their time and expertise to help countless children in need.
3. “You’re so beautiful and you’re so incredibly compassionate. It doesn’t matter what we went through as kids. What matters is that we are here now and we are making an impact. You bring so much to the table. You are very valued. You’ve got this and you can do anything.”
Growing up in the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Naiomi was picked on relentlessly because she was born with a cleft. She had such a hard time speaking that she chose not to speak at all, once staying silent for a solid year.
These days, life is a lot different for Naiomi! After receiving life-changing cleft care, Naiomi became a motivational speaker and a social media influencer famous for skateboarding, weaving, and being the ultimate cleft advocate!
4. “When they start the treatment, my patients are fearful, sad children. Sometimes they come to the visit and burst into tears. And as time goes by, they lose their fear, smile more, look happier, and make more eye contact as well as physical contact — they run to me and hold me dearly. Because they realize they are improving!”
Speech therapist Andrea is passionate about helping children learn to communicate. Many children with clefts struggle to speak clearly and be understood, and Andrea is determined to help them find their voices. She now works with a Smile Train partner hospital to provide the speech care they need to tell their own stories, and her work has made a huge difference in so many lives.
5. “If they can’t communicate, they become frustrated and aggressive, which affects every aspect of their lives.”
Evelyn firmly believes that human beings are inherently social. Helping others to communicate effectively is her calling, and she’s spent the past 10 years assisting children with clefts as they overcome speech challenges in Peru.
Many of Evelyn’s patients live in remote areas where speech services aren’t available. Partnering with Smile Train means Evelyn can reach even more children while expanding treatment areas through specialist training!
6. “Women, when empowered, have the pulse of the community. And when you empower women, you improve health, you improve nutrition, you improve education. The woman becomes independent. When you empower women, you improve the economy.”
In order to be strong enough for cleft surgery, children need to have the proper nutrition. As a nutritionist, Cristina believes a proper, healthy diet is the first step in healing clefts. Babies born with clefts often can’t eat properly and can easily become malnourished, so Cristina makes sure their parents have the information and tools they need to support their children before and after surgery.
7. “There’s no competition to giving. Only reward.”
Andi was just 7 years old when she spotted an ad for Smile Train online. She instantly recognized herself, because she was born with a cleft, too. She and her mother quickly started a Facebook page to raise money to support Smile Train, which sparked Andi’s lifelong interest in fundraising and charitable work. She even traveled to India with Smile Train to help other children with clefts.
8. “When he came out, I couldn’t be happier with the results! I always knew my boy was more handsome than all the others around him; now everyone else can see that, too.”
Living in a small village in Zimbabwe, Rosemary had never even heard of a cleft before her son Nyasha was born. Her family was supportive, but they were shunned by their community. It took months before Nyasha gained enough weight for his surgery, which was provided free of charge by a Smile Train partner. Rosemary said there was no way her family could ever have afforded to heal Nyasha, so she’s incredibly grateful.
9. “I get the greatest satisfaction when I see patients grow up to be healthy individuals. It not only makes me very happy, but also makes me want to become better at helping them. I will still be doing this work for a long time.”
Adriana used to work for a private hospital, but after spending some time volunteering with a Smile Train partner, she decided to devote her career to bringing nutrition education to cleft-affected families across Peru. She has now implemented a cleft surgery preparation program for children’s families, which will help them get the treatments they need even faster.
10. “I am thankful to God for the path that life has brought me on so far. Cleft surgery is among the most satisfying and life-changing procedures you can perform as a doctor. Thank you, Smile Train, for supporting my training and for bringing smiles to so many families.”
Dr. Amanda Malungo is a plastic, reconstructive, and aesthetic surgeon who got her start thanks to a Smile Train-sponsored scholarship. She is now the first and still only female plastic surgeon in Zambia, and a Smile Train partner who works every day to help children in need.
11. “It makes feel proud that as a woman I have been given the tools to navigate spaces where I do not speak the language nor am I from the same cultural background. Smile Train has enabled me to cross borders, venture out into new territories, test out my capabilities, and prove to myself that I am more than what I had believed myself to be. I am resilient!”
Sesnie is a former marketing professional based in Ethiopia whose work with Smile Train has changed her life for the better. Now, as Smile Train’s Program Manager for East Africa, she sees what an immediate impact she can have in the lives of others, and she is humbled to be a part of such a life-changing organization. She is determined to engage the media to spread word of Smile Train’s important work to even more people in her region and around the world.
We are so inspired by these incredible heroes, healers, and warriors! Happy International Women’s Day to all the extraordinary people like them who are making the world a better place, one smile at a time!
Share their stories to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
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