After meeting Smile Train UK’s Fundraising Director, Ian, in London in March 2018, I happened to be going to New York that Easter for a family holiday. Ian spoke with the New York office and they arranged for me to go in for a whole day and meet some of the NYC team.
They were so friendly and welcoming, each generously giving up their time to explain their work. I was able to learn about how they develop their programmes, and how Smile Train works with different global leaders to help raise funds. I also learned about their quality standards policy to ensure every child is given high quality treatment that goes beyond the initial repair (which here in the UK you get automatically though the NHS).
First, I met a lady who helps to manage Smile Train's international medical programmes. She showed me how Smile Train’s partner surgeons must send pictures of patients before and after their surgery to show the surgery was completed successfully. It was great to see so many images of children who’d literally had their lives transformed by Smile Train. She also told me about a study completed a few years ago that found a $250 investment in Smile Train cleft surgery could increase the local economy by $50,000. Whilst cleft surgery is obviously about a child’s quality of life and their happiness, it was great to see the impact a cleft surgery for one person could have for the whole community.
I then met some of their communications team, who told me about the various ways Smile Train works to attract new fundraisers and donors, whilst keeping current supporters ‘in the loop’ regarding Smile Train’s developments . They also told me about how they try to raise awareness of Smile Train’s work, including how one year they managed to get the Empire State Building lit up in Smile Train’s colours for World Smile Day! Next was the digital team – although the guy I was supposed to meet was actually moving house that day, he still called-in to chat, and had even arranged for the whole team to meet me because he couldn’t be there in person. Both the digital and communications teams were really cool, especially getting to hear how fundraising changes between the UK and USA.
Next was the Senior Vice President of Development. Although he happened to be in Cuba, over a Skype call he explained how Smile Train has worked with some pretty cool fundraisers, including Kylie Jenner – whose special fundraising ‘lip kit’ sold out almost instantly, fundraising nearly $500,000! Afterwards, I met the creative production team who showed me some of the fundraising materials they’d been designing. This included an awesome virtual reality video that showed the journey of one of Smile Train’s patients – from his life at home before surgery, to going to the hospital and finally the transformation when he returned to his village, proudly showing his new smile. This was quite emotional for me as I could link his experience (although in so many ways more difficult) with my own, especially lying on a hospital bed, waiting for the anaesthetic to kick in, knowing you’ll be changed forever.
Finally, I met Smile Train’s incredible CEO, Susannah Schaefer in person. She explained how she’d just returned from Kenya where Smile Train had sponsored a medical conference for cleft surgeons. She told me about how Smile Train founded after Charles Wang found a young girl in China who did not have access to cleft repair surgery and his dream that no baby, child or adult should ever find themselves in this heart-breaking situation. She explained a little about how she came to work for Smile Train and how profound the “teach a man to fish” model really is, where there are now ‘second generation’ Smile Train partner surgeons – where trained local surgeons who’d been trained by Western doctors a few years ago now train new local doctors.
I had a fantastic day learning about how Smile Train uses every penny to make a difference. I walked away feeling even more excited to start my internship, it was amazing to know that I’d soon be joining this wonderful international family of people who care about helping those with clefts and making a difference to the lives of millions.