We’re learning more and more about the importance of taking time to focus on our personal health and wellbeing.
Some people might feel guilty for taking care of their own mental and physical health, but in actuality, it’s a crucial aspect of living in society. After all, how can we take care of others if we ignore our own needs? In honor of International Self-Care Day on July 24th, we’re sharing seven inspiring words of wisdom from people who’ve been through challenges and now understand how important and empowering self-care truly is.
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.”
Iva Ballou was born in Jacksonville, Florida with a cleft and a genetic condition called Peter’s Anomaly. Unable to communicate effectively because of her cleft and blind in one eye , Iva was bullied and victimized throughout her adolescence. She spent ages asking why she’d been born different, but it wasn’t until she stopped asking why and embraced her differences that her life finally shifted out of neutral and into high gear!
Now, Iva understands that “there’s power in every smile.” Even though she’s an introvert by nature, she has become a certified motivational speaker and is a proud member of Smile Train’s Cleft Community Advisory Council (CCAC), Smile Train’s board of cleft-affected Americans who use their personal experiences to ensure their marketing and communications stay positive and accurate. She feels that sitting on the council is a “natural extension” of her life’s work. She speaks at schools and corporations around the U.S. about finding dignity, respect, and acceptance in the differences that make each person unique.
2. “Actions speak louder than words, and I believe that God chose us, children born with clefts, to prove this.”
Harkirat Singh Paras of India hardly spoke a word until he was 18 years old. As a child, he was relentlessly bullied in school. Once his parents discovered Smile Train, he received six surgeries at Smile Train partner hospitals. By the time he graduated from high school, Harkirat was more than ready to use his newfound voice to make positive changes on the world around him.
Now an adult, Harkirat has loads of achievements and accolades to his name. He’s an entrepreneur, engineer, YouTuber, Google-certified digital marketer, and brand photographer. He’s also earning a master’s degree!
“The world bows in front of those who believe in their dreams,” said Harkirat. “I chose to stand up and work to change how people think about me and others like me with clefts. Today, I proudly say that I talk to hundreds of clients and colleagues and do business all over India. Thousands ask me for guidance, motivation, help, and support.”
3. “Because I can smile now, I want to give my smile to others.”
Born with a cleft in rural Indonesia, Rahmad was no stranger to bullying. He didn’t even try to speak to others or ask girls out on dates, convinced he had nothing to offer the world. After surviving the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed several family members in 2004, he began to see himself as the survivor he truly is!
Rahmad was 18 when he received free surgery to heal his cleft at Malahayati Hospital, a Smile Train partner. The surgery changed his life forever, giving him a voice he’d never known how to use before. Seeing how much his life improved after his surgery inspired him to use his voice to help others who are still suffering. Today, he is a Smile Train social worker who drives a decked-out minibus to hundreds of tiny villages to spread the word about Smile Train. He’ll often have to visit a village two or three times to convince nervous families.
“My question to them is, ‘Don’t you want your kid to have a better life like me? To follow in my footsteps?’ At that point, their answer is almost always yes,” he said.
4. “To me, a smile at any given moment can offer hope, joy, acceptance, comfort, happiness, humor, or really any positive emotion. Seeing my daughter smile, no matter what my mood, ALWAYS changes that moment for me. It makes my heart melt, my breath stop, my world change. I am amazed at what she has been through and look forward to seeing how that smile and her strong personality will take on the world!”
Registered nurse Jessi Williams of Illinois was 17 weeks pregnant when she found out that her daughter, Brennan, had a cleft lip and palate. The news wasn’t necessarily a surprise; Jessi has several family members who are also cleft-affected. She immediately went into “research mode.” When she found Smile Train, she knew she’d discovered even more than a way to heal her daughter’s cleft. She’d found an organization she was proud to support, and Jessi is now a member of the CCAC.
“I wanted to give back to the cleft community as well as help bring awareness to the public,” she said. “I work in the medical community, so I feel that I have a pretty good background and understanding of clefts. I wanted to be able to share my knowledge as well as Brennan’s story to help others, and the CCAC has helped me to do all that and more.”
5. “A few years back, I was afraid to talk to others, wanted to avoid meeting people. The comprehensive cleft treatment I received at Smile Train partner Bhagwan Mahaveer Jain Hospital not only improved my speech and appearance but also gave me the confidence to lead a full life. Today, I love the person I am and look forward to living life to the fullest.”
Growing up with a cleft, Zaiba was painfully shy and embarrassed by her appearance. She had a primary cleft surgery, but her parents could not afford the secondary treatments she needed that affect her teeth and jaw. Thankfully, they discovered Smile Train right before Zaiba was due to head to high school. She received free speech and orthodontic treatment followed by four secondary surgeries.
Now that she can speak clearly, nothing is holding this young scholar back! She is currently finishing up her degree in computer science at the Oxford College of Engineering in Bengaluru. She’s also discovered a passion for teaching, an occupation that was once completely out of reach for someone with communication issues.
When asked what advice she would give to other young people living with clefts, her answer was perfect: “Let your smile change the world; don’t let the world change your smile.”
6. “For me and so many other rare and beautiful flowers, Smile Train has given us what we needed to grow, have confidence in ourselves, and bloom into new life during our times of greatest adversity. I am forever grateful to its donors for making our metamorphoses possible.”
Although she was born with a cleft, Julia of the Philippines, says she’s “always been blessed.” Her parents made sure she got surgery early as an infant, and her mother went to great lengths to mash fruit and vegetables up so that Julia could eat a relatively normal diet. She suffered from respiratory problems that made her sick a lot, and children at school were flat-out awful to her because of her speech differences. She’d often come home from school in tears.
As a teen, she discovered that making art was a great way to channel her pain. She says painting is her therapy, and now she feels stronger for having gone through tough times as a child. In high school, her mother discovered Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation of the Philippines (NCF), a Smile Train partner that changed Julia’s life forever.
“NCF was the first place I ever felt ‘seen’ and valued outside my home because they and Smile Train understand that truly healing a person’s cleft requires healing the whole person, not just their face.”
Julia is now rebuilding her confidence and working to educate others about clefts in an effort to “channel our worst days into something good and productive.”
7. “I’ve written a lot of books about it now, but I’d say that really my message to Norah, and everyone else with a cleft, is simple: Your strength is beautiful. Your smile is beautiful, and you will always be radiant.”
When her daughter Norah was born with a cleft, Sasha Cooper found herself repeating a simple mantra, “I love you the same.” As her baby grew, Sasha constantly faced ignorant and painful comments from her family and even strangers. She became angry and felt isolated from the cleft community, so she started looking for books about being a cleft parent. When she couldn’t find one, she decided to write it herself!
“I Love You The Same” was the first children’s book Sasha wrote about the subject, but not the last. She uses her books to fight the stigma against people with clefts. She also hopes to inspire Norah, and other kids born with differences, that she can do anything.
“Her cleft doesn’t have to be her hindrance — it can be her superpower!”
We are so moved and inspired by these brave voices from the #CleftProud community! Let their wisdom guide you as you find ways to love and care for yourself on International Self-Care Day, and beyond.
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