Free Cleft Surgery for 400 Filipino Children

May 22, 2014

The Power of a Smile Trained a Nurse

Angieleca Hayahay once dreamed of becoming a nurse. But her path wasn’t without its difficulties. While applying for work at a call center to help pay for her schooling, an examiner told her that there was a strict policy against hiring those with a cleft. This is not uncommon to many cultures where cleft is seen as a curse or lifelong disability. Some still believe that physical deformity is evidence of mental disability as well. 

But Angieleca persevered against discrimination and officially became a nurse in 2009. She now works with Philippine Band of Mercy, the very same people who, with the help of Smile Train, repaired her cleft and inspired her to become a nurse.Being a former cleft patient herself, she has a unique ability to relate to the families who come through the hospital. Drawing from her own experiences to address their fears and concerns.

She’s a role model to those with a cleft, and proof that cleft patients can change not only lives, but minds as well.


Sep 19, 2012

From Patient to Hero: Rojan Pajarin

Paranaque City, Philippines — Rojan knows the suffering that can come with an unrepaired cleft better than anyone, which is why he now works hard to help other cleft patients.

"I make it a point to encourage other patients and share my experiences with them, especially to children who have the same condition I had".

Rojan J. Pajarin was born with a cleft lip and palate. While he had his cleft lip repaired as a child, he was unable to have his palate repaired until a few years ago. Since then, he has been working tirelessly to help others born with cleft at Smile Train partner Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation. This is his story in his words.

"In my childhood, being a cleft is no big deal for me. I did not care whenever people tease me or whenever someone imitated the way I speak. This is because I was an only child. And like other children, I was unaffected and did what I want. I felt the support of my family and other people in our barangays – they believe in me.

Unexpected changes happened in my teenage years. Each day was a challenge as if I was living a world full of strangers. I was unsure of who to be with and uncertain of who to trust. Most of those I met would surely tease me. I remember being called an idiot. Comments like that made me suffer and made it hard for me to connect to people. There were times when I felt down and I wondered how to rebuild my self-esteem. I knew that there are people who would support me but I sometimes doubted this.

But I continued to hope and believed that everything would be okay if I finish my studies. I finished my studies but I was unprepared for a bigger and more competitive world. I received a lot of rejections when I was applying for a job. One day, I felt lost and almost became convinced that this world is not for me. I was down with self-pity. I decided to go back to my hometown and become a fisherman like my father.

On my trip back to our province, I was dreaming for a group which could support and guide people like me – cleft and those with speech disability. I saw a cleft mission streamer in one of the hospitals in Daet and wondered if my cleft palate could still be repaired. Upon reaching home, my mother convinced me to inquire on that free cleft surgery. At first, I was hesitant but when the doctor explained to us who they are and what they do, I felt enlightened. I knew it was the answer to my yearning for a group who would heal me.

I was sent to a hospital with complete facilities necessary for my operation. I received the operation at the Our Lady of Peace Hospital in Paranaque City through the help of Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation Philippines, Inc. (NCFPI). I also underwent speech therapy after the operation. Smile Train funded the surgery expenses.

For three years now, I have been employed as a patient care staff in NCFPI. I am continually amazed at how positive parents are despite the condition of their children. I think they are more positive than I am.

My views in life gradually changed. My fears were erased as time went by. I went back to Manila wanting only the operation but I realized that I was given more than what I wanted.

Today, I make it a point to encourage other patients and share my experiences with them, especially to children who have the same condition I had.”

May 21, 2012

Smile Train's 750,000th Surgery - Jhoanna Galut

Quezon City, PhilippinesYesterday, Smile Train announced our 750,000th free cleft surgery since our founding in 1999. Jhoanna Galut was chosen to represent this amazing “smilestone.” This is her story.

Smile Train's 750,000th Patient Jhoanna After Surgery

As Jhoanna Galut began to approach her 6th birthday, she had little to celebrate. The 4th of 6 children born to a poor family living off $2 a day, Jhoanna suffered from a unilateral cleft lip as well as asthma. Her asthma turned out to be almost as much of a curse as her cleft lip.

Jhoanna’ asthma and very thin frame caused her to fail to pass the medical examination during a free cleft surgery camp organized by an army unit. The cancellation of her surgery at the camp, sent her family into despair. Things only got worse when she got older and local kids began to make fun of her cleft. Perhaps saddest of all, it wasn’t just school kids who made fun of Jhoanna — her mother frequently got into fights with her neighbors over Jhoanna’s cleft.

One day, Jhoanna’s mother brought her youngest child to the hospital for a check up and found literature about Smile Train’s free cleft surgery program at Philippine Band of Mercy. Her hope returned, and when they arrived home, they packed their backs immediately.

Jhoanna had grown strong enough to pass the medical examination and finally received free cleft lip surgery at the hands of Dr. Gilbert Esquejo of Philippine Band of Mercy. With her bright new smile, Jhoana is anxiously looking forward to school and hopes to one day become a teacher.

Feb 15, 2012

Notes from our patients and their families

Here are two notes we recently received from one of our partner hospitals in the Philippines. The first one is in English, but here is the translation of the second:

My sad story started since I was a child in school where my classmates were very mean to me. They would pull my hair and take my food because I have a cleft lip.
I couldn’t do anything but cry and raise my head to the heavens and say “GOD , please have mercy on them because they don’t know what they’re doing”.
My uncle told me “Dedeng, have your lip repaired” but I said, “I’m afraid it might be painful. Then they will laugh because if I have it repaired –a flap will be taken from my rear end to cover the defect on my lip. Then I’ll just cry Doctor and ask myself how come I have this deformity.”
My grandmother advised my father to have my lip repaired but my father said “No, it will just be painful and that would better so she won’t get married.” And I thought what a pity my life is.
I would like to thank you all, especially Dr Stephanie Jacutin and Ms Lisa Tampohan. Many thanks to all of you.

Nov 17, 2011

The Need For A Permanent Presence

Smile Train patient HAnef Abdul Samad before free cleft lip surgeryMarikina City, Philippines — When Hanef Abdul Samad was born with a cleft lip or “bingot,” his mother saved as much money as she could to travel nearly 500 miles from the conflict-affected island of Mindanao to Manila to find help. She left her home, her family, and everything she had ever known for the slim chance that her son’s cleft lip could somehow be fixed. Shortly after they arrived in Manila, Hanef was lucky to be screened and scheduled for free cleft surgery by a medical mission group from the USA. All of her hopes had come true. Until the medical mission group suffered from internal problems and Hanef’s surgery was among those cancelled.

Hanef and many more who had been scheduled for surgery would not receive it as the mission group had to leave shortly after they corrected the problems that stalled their good work. Angry at the twists of fate that continually kept her son from a normal life, dejected and forlorn, Hanef’s mother continued on her quest to help her son with an even heavier heart. Unable to find work and watch her son, she reached out to a local charitable organization to help her get on her feet. The organization quickly referred her to a relatively new Smile Train partner, Marikina St. Vincent Hospital. Fearing further disappointment, she was very hesitant to bring Hanef in, but realized that for Hanef, she could never abandon hope.

Smile Train patient HAnef Abdul Samad after free cleft lip surgery

Within days, Hanef received free cleft surgery under skilled surgeon Dr. Edmundo Mercado and a second chance at life. His mother was relieved of her fears and disappointment and with the help of a Smile Train Smile Grant and the local charity, they were able to begin the long journey home: promising to spread the word about Smile Train.

Marikina St. Vincent Hospital Smile Train cleft patients and staff

Having a permanent, local presence where partner hospitals can provide surgery year-round holds Smile Train to our promise to never turn a child away and ensures that temporary setbacks and timetables will not result in cancelled surgeries and lost hope.

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Project Leader

Adina Wexelberg-Clouser

Donor Relations Associate
New York, NY United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Free Cleft Surgery for 400 Filipino Children