Cleft Community Advisory Council Members Visit Colombia

One community, separated and united by smiles

“Being the mom of a cleft-affected child, it’s very important to me to be able to bond with other parents and make that connection, to be able to spread awareness in the community and be able to be there for other people.” – Alyson Ferguson, NY

This past summer, members of the US cleft community traveled deep into the Andes for an up-close-and-personal look at Smile Train’s work in Medellín, Colombia. Though separated by miles, language, culture, and so much else, the group soon discovered that something much deeper united them with the children and families they met — their smiles.

“It’s been so amazing to me hearing the stories of Smile Train families, how they’re so similar to the stories that my family has.” – Jessi Fasse, IA

The travelers came from all over the US and represented many walks of life and relationships to clefts. Ashley Barbour and Christine Errico were born with clefts. Jessi Fasse, Allyson Ferguson, Jessi Williams, and Susan Hollis are all proud cleft moms — Susan’s daughter, Lily, is actually a Smile Train patient adopted from China. Each is a longtime member of the Cleft Community Advisory Council (CCAC), the board of cleft-affected Americans who help advance Smile Train’s communications strategies and work to strengthen the US cleft community, and each saw this Journey of Smiles as a natural extension of that vital task.

Seeing the patient going in for surgery “was really emotional. It brought back a lot of memories of when I saw my daughter for the first time [after cleft surgery], and it’s just amazing that [this family was] provided this opportunity to be able to give their daughter the care that she needs.” – Jessi Williams, IL

It was a whirlwind two days of visiting patients’ homes and hearing very familiar stories of surviving bullies and shuttling to and from the hospital for care. Of meeting a baby just before — then just after — her first cleft surgery and comforting her mother. Of listening to heroic Smile Train partner specialists dedicated to providing a world-class standard of comprehensive cleft care — including surgical, nutritional, orthodontic, psychosocial treatment, and more — to every child in need, no matter what. Of reveling in the most breathtaking views and most sumptuous cuisine Medellín has to offer. And so, so much else.

“It made me feel so alive and so proud of the cleft community, to be able to give back the way I am.” – Christine Errico, FL

In the end, the Journeyers returned to America motivated to continue their lifesaving work educating about clefts and raising funds for Smile Train. Because the only thing better than smiling yourself is giving one — or many — to others who could use one.

“Just so pleased to be here and just so grateful to have this opportunity. I’ve got so many great stories to take back, and I can’t wait to share!” – Susan Hollis, SC

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