I’ve written previously about Smile Train, an international children’s charity that provides free cleft repair to those who could otherwise not afford it.
Although there are a number of charities that offer cleft care to children in developing countries, I’ve chosen to support Smile Train for their sustainable approach to cleft care.
In addition to free cleft repair, Smile Train also provides training, funding and resources to make it possible for local doctors in more than 80 developing countries to provide cleft care in their own communities.
According to Smile Train, clefts are primarily an economic problem, not a medical one. For, while the surgical procedure itself is relatively straightforward and low risk, cleft-afflicted families in very poor, and often remote, communities can’t afford the cost of travelling to a clinic that offers cleft care, let alone pay for the operation itself.
Lack of information about cleft also means that families are often unaware of existing cleft treatments. As a result, all too many children with cleft in developing countries do not receive the reconstructive surgery they need and which is so vital for their long-term health and wellbeing.
I’ve been a passionate supporter of Smile Train for many years now, so when an opportunity to observe their work first-hand arose, I jumped at the chance.
And so it is that I am travelling from London to Guatemala this week to visit local clinics that work in partnership with Smile Train to provide free cleft care. During my brief stay in Guatemala, I will also have the opportunity to meet cleft patients and their families.
More than 600 babies are born with a cleft in Guatemala each year, and many of them don’t receive the treatment they need. Poverty and illiteracy are huge problems in rural areas and access to medical resources scarce.
Popular beliefs about the causes of cleft are another problem; many believe that babies born with cleft are cursed or that their mothers are at fault.
I am thrilled to be taking part in Smile Train’s Journey of Smiles to Guatemala, and I will, of course, be sharing my impressions and experiences in future blog posts.