Nourishing Hope in the Philippines

Dr. Ingrid Leal lends her expertise to improve nutrition programs in the Philippines

A child with an untreated cleft lip in Philippines

In 2019, Dr. Ingrid Leal stepped away from her desk at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) where she serves as Publications Lead for the US & LATAM (Latin America) Vaccines Office of Medical Governance and Bioethics. From her home in Panama, she flew to the Philippines, where she would spend the next five months supporting Smile Train programs as a Community Health Program Specialist at long-time Smile Train partner Philippine Band of Mercy.

Her work was part of GSK’s innovative PULSE volunteer program, which allows seasoned GSK employees to spend three to six months volunteering with a non-profit organization. Each assignment is aimed at tackling an opportunity within the organization by the company’s partners.

Ingrid was the first PULSE volunteer to work with Smile Train as part of Smile Train and GSK’s multi-year partnership. As a nutrition expert, a former international lactation consultant, and co-founder of Lactancia SOS, Ingrid’s role included assessing the local need for a nutritional program and developing vital breastfeeding and nutritional resources for parents of babies with clefts.

Ingrid next to a cleft patient

Malnutrition is pervasive around the globe, with devastating consequences for children and families. The nutrition a baby receives in their first 1,000 days, which includes the nutrition they receive from their mother while still in the womb, can shape the course of their entire life.

Childhood malnutrition is a particularly acute problem in the Philippines. Every day, 95 children in the archipelago die from malnutrition and a third of Filipino children are stunted, or short for their age, due to undernourishment. For babies with clefts, who are especially vulnerable to malnutrition due to how difficult it can be for them to breastfeed, nutritional programs are a critical part of treatment and essential for safe surgery.

This is why Smile Train supports our partners to provide nutrition counseling and support as part of their comprehensive care programs, and why we partner with experts like Ingrid to develop programs that address local nutrition challenges and needs.

In her five months of working with Smile Train, Ingrid consulted with mothers, families, and Smile Train partners on the challenges they were experiencing and seeing. Based on their feedback, she designed and delivered the first Smile Train cleft nutritional workshop in the Philippines to coach mothers on the optimal feeding practices for their babies. She also created a range of materials, including a video tutorial on preferred feeding practices, for the frontline workers who support parents of children with clefts.

Ingrid talks to a mother

“It was a growing and learning experience for me. It is indescribable how it feels to touch the life of families in need. I hope that this material guides frontline workers supporting undernourished babies with clefts so they will gain the necessary weight to be ready for their surgery,” said Ingrid.

Ingrid’s hopes have already been fulfilled – and her work has fulfilled the hopes of many mothers and families. Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano, Smile Train's Area Director for Southeast Asia, says that Ingrid’s work has changed lives not only in the Philippines, but also the lives of families around the world.

“Ingrid’s contributions to Smile Train’s nutrition programs, and other programs, in the Philippines have been invaluable. She came in as a nutrition expert and she took the time to learn from mothers of babies with clefts. She learned what their challenges were and what help they needed,” says Kimmy. “You can see that understanding reflected in these incredibly relevant materials that aim to help more mothers in the future. These materials have been translated to other languages and widely distributed across all our partners in the Philippines. Her work has also been shared with families around the world, saving lives and raising awareness on just how important nutrition is when it comes to care for babies with clefts.”

View Smile Train’s Nutrition Resources

Follow Smile Train to learn how we’re working with partners and #AdvancingCleftNutrition