#ItStartsWithASmile Update: Maria

3 March 2020 | Smile Train

In 2016, we shared the story of Maria and her parents, Stella and Jesus. Maria’s journey to a healthy, happy life started with her first cleft surgery, and it continues to this day with ongoing care at Smile Train’s local partner in Bogotá, Colombia.

Stella struggled when Maria was born with a cleft lip and palate. She had breastfed her seven other children without problems, but Maria’s clefts caused the milk to come out of her nose and made her choke. Stella quickly grew weary of the stares and discriminatory comments she encountered every time she left the house with Maria.

The family found a ray of hope when a neighbour shared that Maria could receive assistance at FISULAB in nearby Bogotá.

Maria before her cleft surgery

At FISULAB, Stella learned feeding techniques that helped Maria eat without choking. When Stella shared with the team that she felt personally responsible for Maria’s clefts, they explained that one in 700 babies are born with a cleft and that their parents represent a variety of ages and backgrounds. Knowing she wasn’t alone helped Stella’s guilt to disappear.

When Maria reached a healthy weight, she received her Smile Train-supported cleft lip surgery. “I was so happy; I still cry tears of joy just thinking about it,” Stella recalled.

Maria after her first cleft surgery

Then, six months later, Maria received her Smile Train-supported cleft palate surgery.

Maria orthodontic treatment

When she was four years old, Maria started orthodontic treatment to align her teeth and gums.

Maria playing

FISULAB’s psychologist helped Maria and Stella though the emotional issues that came up. When Maria started school, she learned strategies to deal with bullying. Maria grew to embrace her differences as what made her unique.

Maria playing

Today, Maria is an energetic and confident seventh-grader.

She’s excelling in Smile Train-supported speech treatment, where she concentrates on improving her P, B, T, D, K, and G sounds.

Maria kisses her mom

Maria loves choreographing dances with her sister Valentina and excels in belly dancing. She aspires to be a dance instructor when she grows up and wants to buy a house where her parents can live with her. “My parents have always loved me just the way I am,” she said.

Maria reveals her before picture

Stella said, “FISULAB is a blessing for my daughter and the family — not only for our cleft surgeries but for all the other dental and psychological treatments we received. I’m extremely thankful to Smile Train and its donors. We would never have been able to afford this treatment without them.”


Smile Train funds and is expanding our comprehensive cleft treatment programmes around the world because of children like Maria. To help us continue to fund comprehensive cleft treatment programmes like free orthodontics, psychiatric support, and speech therapy so children can thrive and reach their full potential, please make a gift now.