I recently participated in my first Journey of Smiles trip. These trips provide Smile Train supporters the opportunity to visit partner hospitals and patients in the field. For me, there is nothing more impactful and rewarding than seeing first-hand how Smile Train gives children second chances at life, and I was thrilled by the opportunity to visit our partners in Indonesia.
Our first visit was to partner hospital Yaya Senyum Bali where we viewed a cleft lip surgery and visited their Smile House. The Smile House was created to offer patients and their families a place to stay and receive pre- and post-operative assistance. Many of our patients travel very long distances to reach our partner hospitals, especially in Indonesia, an archipelago of 18,307 islands! Some of our patients have never seen electricity or running water before they arrive in Bali.
The staff at the Smile House provides more than just room and board for patients and their families, they also connect them with a larger network of people who are going through the same experience. During their time at the Smile House everyone is one big family.
Some people are so moved by their experience at the Smile House that they are inspired to give back. One former patient was so thankful for all that the Smile House provided for her, she decided to stay on and work as the Smile House’s cook. She’s able to provide not just meals for those staying there, but support from someone who knows exactly what they are going through.
From Bali, we flew to Bandung to meet the staff and patients at our partner hospital YPPCBL. Our entire group was humbled by the compassion with which the staff approached their efforts of helping children with clefts. They are constantly pushing themselves to try and find ways to do even more to help their patients. Their whole team, surgeons, speech therapists, social workers and administrators, are so wonderful that it’s not hard to imagine why the people at the cleft center have become like a second family for their patients.
After our time at YPPCBL, we visited former Smile Train patient Elka and her family, who live in a two room apartment on the outskirts of Bandung.
Elka received free cleft palate surgery at YPPCBL when she was three years old, two years later than when most babies receive cleft palate surgery. Repairing a cleft palate at that age caused Elka to develop a speech impairment and require years of speech therapy, provided for free at YPPCBL.
YPPCBL’s speech therapist, who works with Elka, accompanied us on the visit. It was so heartwarming to see the relationship that the speech therapist had with Elka. It felt like she was part of Elka’s family.
I am beyond grateful to be given the opportunity to travel to Indonesia, meet our local team there and share this experience with our supporters. Words cannot describe how inspiring it was to see our programs through their eyes. Without the support of our donors, none of this would be possible.