It is true that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life and it is my passion for helping children lead a better life that brought me to Smile Train. I joined Smile Train in May 2010 to look after its programs in the Philippines. Seven years later, while I have seen how much the organization has helped the country, I also know that there is still much work to be done.
Being a developing nation, we have faced a number of challenges similar to those faced by Smile Train in India. However, there are also challenges that are unique to the Philippines. Being an archipelago, the Philippines has over 7,100 islands, which makes transportation a challenge, since patients have to travel long distances not only by road but also by sea to reach the nearest Smile Train partner hospital. Most of the far flung islands do not have proper medical facilities to provide safe and quality surgeries, and since most surgeons, and other medical professionals for that matter, provide services in the bigger cities, access to healthcare becomes a hurdle.
Despite all these challenges, our program in Philippines has seen immense growth since inception. Over the years, we have celebrated with over 45,000 families, after their children were gifted new smiles and a second chance at life. Year after year, I have seen the hope in parents’ eyes when they bring their child for the initial diagnosis, their anxiety when they see their child being rolled into the operating room for surgery, and the joy when they finally see the transformation. But, a few stories leave an imprint in one’s mind, and one such transformation is that of Johanna’s, our 750,000th patient worldwide. A shy little 7 year-old girl, Johanna was so conscious of her appearance that she couldn’t even look us in the eyes. But, after her surgery, she is a confident young girl who does not hesitate in speaking with anyone!
Another inspiring journey that has deeply touched my heart is that of Angel, who was born with a cleft lip and palate. Angel is now a nurse, working at one of our partner hospitals to spread smiles, just like hers. Angel’s mere presence inspires the thousands of patients and their parents she meets every day.
These stories of transformation are what keep us motivated and give us the strength to overcome all challenges and spread the power of a smile! Because of the faith that our patients and their families have in us, the future of the program in Philippines seems bright. We are aiming to reduce the median age of children who are coming in for their cleft surgery to 2-3 years, if not lower, by spreading awareness and developing more comprehensive cleft care centres around the country, so that every child, born with a cleft, has the opportunity to experience the joy of receiving a second chance at life.
Kimmy Flaviano is country director for Smile Train Philippines. She joined Smile Train in May 2010 and has been instrumental in expanding the cleft program in the country. Over 45,000 cleft repair surgeries have been provided under the Smile Train program in Philippines since 2001.