Free Cleft Surgery for 400 Filipino Children

by Smile Train

Manila, Philippines — Smile Train Philippines has provided its 20,000th free cleft lip/palate surgery. This remarkable "smilestone" was reached when Smile Train partner St. Vincent General Hospital in Marikina City completed 4-year-old Edward Pastidio's free cleft lip surgery.

"Smile Train believes that every child born with a cleft deserves the opportunity to live a full and productive life. This global organization aims to reach poor communities and families that do not have access to medical care, and bridge the gap between the cleft child and a simple surgery that will change his life,” said Kimmy Flaviano, Country Manager, Smile Train Philippines.

While most patients his age may not understand the importance of the surgery he received, Edward knew exactly what he had in store for him. When asked if he goes to school, he responded, "No, because my lip hasn’t been sewn yet."

Like most 4-year-olds, Edward is outgoing and full of energy; he loves to draw, write, and play basketball. He has been lucky that his family and his community have accepted him for who he is and have always looked past his cleft lip — sadly, a rare occurence for children with unrepaired clefts who usually live lives of shame and isolation.

The youngest of three siblings, Edward has lots of friends in his neighborhood that he won over with his great personality. Occasionally, a new child would move in and make fun of him, but they quickly learned that his playmates would have none of it. However, the school teacher was afraid that this would change if he attended school without having his cleft repaired.

For Edward and his family, his surgery opens a new chapter in their lives. One where Edward will never have to suffer or be held back becaues of his cleft. A chapter where Edward's intelligence, spirit, and happiness will be free to flourish and where his dream to become a professional basketball player can become a reality.

For the more than 4,000 children who are born with cleft lip and/or palate in the Philippines each year, Edward's surgery represents hope that they too can receive the surgery they need and go on to live a normal life.

“We are very happy and proud to have reached this smilestone. Helping thousands of Filipinos born with cleft lips and palates inspires us to do even more. This is why we strive to sustain and continually expand our local operations and we are very thankful for the support of our partner hospitals and organizations nationwide. Our goal is to give every underprivileged Filipino child born with a cleft a brighter future,” added Kimmy.


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.


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.”

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.

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.


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Smile Train

Location: New York - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Smile Train
Project Leader:
Adina Wexelberg-Clouser
Donor Relations Associate
New York, NY United States

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