I’ve had the opportunity over the past 365 days to visit many of our local partners around the world and saw firsthand how they are helping children with clefts in their own communities each and every day. I’ve seen children with clefts who were socially isolated, unable to attend school and unable to engage with their peers; transform right before my eyes. I’ve seen how a simple surgery can change not only the faces of cleft children around the world, but also their fates – giving them the chance to eat, breathe and speak properly. And I’ve seen the lives of countless children and their families change forever.
One child’s story, of many, that touched my heart this year was about a girl from India named Divya. Divya’s father was ashamed when he saw she had a cleft and abandoned Divya and her mother. As Divya grew up, she not only isolated herself from her peers, but also had difficulty speaking to anyone around her. Everything changed for Divya when she was able to receive free Smile Train cleft repair surgery. The surgery gave Divya the ability to move her mouth without limitations and take up Bharatanatyam. Divya is now a sought-after dancer. To anyone that meets her, it’s now clear that she’s no longer a little girl hiding her face in the shadows, but a confident teen not afraid of the spotlight. Divya’s transformation highlights what the true power of a smile can do.
As a mother myself, some of the most touching moments for me this year were seeing the mothers of our patients, eyes filled with tears, also smiling widely and filled with pride, appreciation and extreme joy after seeing their children come out of surgery. Their tear-soaked faces are a constant reminder of why Smile Train’s work is so important and so lasting, and why I am so honored to continue to be a part of this vital global effort.
We have accomplished a lot together in 2014 and I am looking forward to 2015 as there is still so much more we can do. We will continue to invest in new and innovative global healthcare solutions to give all children with clefts the opportunity to live the happy and meaningful lives that they deserve. I am confident that working together we can continue to change the world one small smile at a time.
Susannah Schaefer, Executive Vice Chair and Chief Executive Officer at Smile Train, joined the management team in February 2013, after being a member of the Smile Train Board of Directors since 2003. She oversees the organization’s mission and day-to-day operations after almost twenty years in operational roles, bringing a vast network and experiences to the team.