I promote this website mainly through social media, especially Instagram. This was where I first noticed Susannah Schaefer, CEO of the global cleft charity Smile Train ‘liking’ my posts. The fact she had even noticed my little website and account was absolutely gob-smacking! It was then, late on a December evening, trudging through university coursework that I decided to reach out and send her a direct message. I sent it (quite honestly) because I was tired of studying and wanted a distraction, but also because I couldn’t believe she had actually noticed my page. I really wanted to thank her for her support and tell her how much it meant to me. I was also interested to see if there would ever be a chance for me to work at Smile Train one day. I sent this message without any expectation of a reply or even a ‘read it’ icon. Instead, the wonderful Susie replied early on New Years’ Day.
After asking to see my resume (CV) to send to the UK team in London, it wasn't until March (when I was truly deep in university work) that I received an email from the lovely Ian Vallance, Director of Fundraising for Smile Train UK. I couldn’t believe it when he said he’d read my CV and would like to meet me. We met at Smile Train UK’s small office in Borough Market amidst a blizzard that was tearing through London (the ‘Beast From The East’ for those that will remember). We had a wonderful chat for about an hour where I learned more about the incredible work of Smile Train.
There was more to this amazing charity than I’d previously thought - not only do they provide free resources for cleft surgeries across the world, but they also provide ‘comprehensive cleft care’ (speech therapy, nutritional grants, emotional support, dental and orthodontics beyond initial surgery). I also learnt about problems I hadn’t even considered - from children being malnourished (special bottles like the ones I had are hard to come by in some of these countries), children having to travel days across the most difficult terrain to reach the hospitals to finding remote communities that have never heard of a cleft and don’t understand why a new baby looks different. Most importantly, I learned about Smile Train’s "teach a man to fish” model. By training local medical professionals (who in turn train other local professionals), Smile Train can create a sustainable, long-term impact and enable treatment 365 days of the year.
It was also great to be able to share my story with Ian, explaining how I’d struggled growing up and how I’d only recently learnt to love myself and embrace my cleft in the most positive ways. I’d gone in with an open mind to the meeting, hoping to maybe come in one day after I’d finished my degree to learn more about what the team do to raise funds for various programmes across the globe. I had not expected to be offered a 3-month internship that I could start as soon as I finished uni.
I was absolutely over the moon. The feeling of happiness I had (and still have) every time I can say to someone that I’m working for Smile Train, after all the rubbish times I’ve had with my cleft, is honestly incredible. The fact it's the reason I’m doing what I do, helping people all over the world to overcome the most difficult circumstances truly shows that no matter what life throws at you, you can turn it around and embrace challeneges as a force for good.