Every morning the news delivers you a fresh list of horribles. Conflict around the world. Environmental degradation. Threats and disasters, rancor and misery... There's not a lot you can do about all that, but when you're a Smile Train donor, you get news like this.
This kind of news doesn't make headlines, but it should. In 1998, Wang Li was the recipient of the first Smile Train cleft repair surgery in China. Just look at her now!
The child of a poor family in a town far from China's prosperous coastal cities, Wang Li had already endured years of ridicule and rejection before Smile Train changed her life. School was an ordeal, so Wang Li had at home, falling farther and farther behind her peers.
When she was nine, a passing stranger saw her mouth and asked her parents why they didn't get surgery for her. Wang Li's parents told him that they had no money for surgery. That stranger told the family about the dramatic before and after pictures he's seen in a Nanjing newspaper.
Those memorable, stunning photos caught his eye and showed him that clefts can be successfully repaired. He passed that information on to Wang Li's family, and told them than an international organization called Smile Train would soon be providing free cleft surgery at Nanjing's Gulou Hospital.
The result of that chance encounter?
At 8:30 on January 26, 1998, Wang Li was a 9-year-old girl with a severe cleft palate and cleft lip. She was someone who believed that she "couldn't be as good as other people."
At 10:30 on January 26, 1998, Wang Li was a 9-year-old girl who looked in a mirror and saw a different person. She saw someone who "could go to school, and make friends, and have a normal life."
At 14, Wang Li was a well-spoken, confident, outgoing student who was working hard to catch up with her classmates. "Now I look like everyone else," she wrote to Smile Train in 2003. "I can do what every other kid does. I study very hard at school...Thank you for giving me a chance."
Wang Li graduated with good marks and has kept in touch with Smile Train.
Today she is a beautiful 23-year-old woman. Recently, she wrote again to share her happiness with us, "I am married!! My husband is also a descendant of peasants. He is humble, honest, kindhearted, and giving. He is also working at a factory of producing electronic products. We love each other. Our personalities match too. Our hearts are filled with hope for our brighter future."
We love each other. What a simple sentence, but how profound.
Wang Li doesn't know the names of the strangers that contributed to Smile Train when it was just getting started in China. She doesn't know the name of the man who told her parents about the hospital that would provide free cleft surgeries. She doesn't know the names of the medical team that gave her a second life and a brand new hope at life in a matter of hours.
"I am truly grateful," Wang Li wrote this year, "Smile Train gave me courage and confidence. My husband and I and wish Smile Train to help more people born with clefts and make their smiles bloom and brighten their lives too!!"
In May, 2012, Smile Train announced a magnificent milestone: 750,000 surgeries.
Three quarters of a million new smiles, brightening the world.
Three quarters of a million children with repaired clefts who can go to school and make friends, who can grow up and find work and love, just as Wang Li did.
Each Smile Train surgery creates an inheritance of smiles and hope that will last generations. That's a lot of bang for 250 bucks!
Every morning, Wang Li gets up and looks in the miiro and knows that there are some problems that really can e solved, once and for all.
And that's what every donor to Smile Train knows, too. We might not see headlines about it, but this year we will know that we have changed more than 750,000 lives by solving one problem at a time, once and for all.
Together, we have made a difference in a world where that can be hard to do.
Mary Doria Russell, renowned author, and proud Smile Train donor.