The World According to Joaquin

An 11-year-old patient shares his exceptional life story as only he can

Joaquin holding a picture of himself before cleft surgery

Eleven-year-old Joaquin lives with his extended family in Sierra Madre, Chile. He has an extraordinary story to tell and wants to share it with you.

I was born with a cleft lip and palate, just like my little sister, Amanda. I live with her, my mother, three uncles, two grandparents, and one great-grandfather. I share my life with them.

Joaquin drawing while his sister and another child look on
Joaquin showing off his drawing

When I get out of school, I like to play the piano my mom got me for Christmas two years ago, watch TV, and draw. Some kids buy action figures or slimes, but I like to draw. When I'm painting with my pencil, I release my stress and feel relaxed. It’s how I have fun without spending a lot.

Joaquin defending the goal in a neighborhood soccer game
Joaquin preparing to block a goal

What I like the most is playing soccer. There are people who believe that soccer is 11 people running after a ball, but for me it is different. Soccer is my way of living life. When I play, I feel a passion running inside me. It is a family thing: my grandparents, my father, and my uncle are good players and they always gave me their support, my uncle Paolo, in particular, with whom my sister and I share many things, even things that our parents don´t know about. It’s thanks to him I feel my passion for soccer.

Soccer helped me realize that being glued to a screen 24/7 was bad. Before soccer, I didn't talk to anyone and I only played with my neighborhood friends and my family, but now I have the strength to move forward. It has also helped with my treatment because when I do well in soccer training, it gives me high self-esteem. Soccer has also taught me teamwork, fellowship, and social skills. That you can lose or win, but the important thing is to have fun.

Joaquin posing with his foot on a soccer ball
Joaquin posing with his foot on a soccer ball

I desire to become a professional player; that´s my dream. I want to achieve my dreams and set goals that I will surpass every day.

Throughout my life, I have encountered difficulties because of my cleft. Treatment for my cleft began when I was born. Right now, I am receiving psychological, dental, and speech therapy care at Dr. Exequiel González Cortés Hospital, a Smile Train partner near my house. That’s also where I received all of my cleft surgeries; I have had five so far.

I would never have received treatment for my cleft without them, and I thank them for their support. My family all see my progress and give me support to keep moving forward. Some friends I have known for several years also tell me that they notice the change.

Joaquin doing his hair in a mirror
Joaquin checking his hair

My cleft has affected me mainly at school. Kindergarten was fine, but grade school was different. At the beginning, I felt alone. I ate my lunch apart from the other children, who were all playing together. At one point, I suffered daily bullying. I used to get sad when I went to play. When I met a child, he would look at me in a bad way, as if I was strange. I remember it as if it were today because it hurt me; I came home crying. With time, I got over it, and when I grew, I found new friends who love me.

When children see a child who was born with a cleft for the first time, it's new to them and they don’t know how to react. It's strange to see someone with an uneven nose who can’t talk well. I understand that now.

Joaquin and his mother share a laugh over cookies and milk as Amanda plays on her phone
Joaquin and his mother, Javiera, share a laugh while Amanda plays on her phone

What gives me the most strength in life is my family. Even if I make a big mistake, they are always there for me. My mom especially.

Joaquin and his mother share a smile
Joaquin and Javiera share a smile

She is 25, which means that she was 14 when I was born. She found strength to work and study and even went to school while carrying me in her arms, overcoming all difficulties. She always fought for me. When I cried, she hugged me and took me to sleep. When I was depressed, she raised my self-esteem. My mom is the best gift I received from God, and I appreciate the effort she made for me. She taught me everything and she gave me the strength that I have today.


My sister, Amanda, is six years old and also receiving treatment for her cleft through Smile Train. We play and fight like all brothers and sisters do. When I was my sister’s age, I dreamed of being an airplane pilot or an astronaut because I liked everything that had to do with space: The planets, the stars, and learning about Saturn, my favorite planet.

When I'm doing something, Amanda wants to do it too. She acts like someone older; she wants to tell me what to do!

Amanda loves to skate. Every day she goes out to the street to do it. She also draws and loves to dance. When we are at a party, she is always part of that group that’s dancing all the time. She is very funny; she laughs a lot and we have fun everywhere.

Joaquin and Amanda
Joaquin and Amanda

My sister and I support each other. When one of us is sad, we talk about it. My advice for Amanda is that when she likes something, to go ahead and do it without changing her attitude because of others’ opinions. I want her to follow the path she chooses.

Javeria, Amanda, and Joaquin
The smiling family

If I met a family that just found out that their child will have a cleft, I would tell them to make every effort to find Smile Train. My sister and I didn´t get to where we are today by leaving things to chance. Things do not come easily; you need to have dedication, effort, and values.

Joaquin holding a picture of himself as a baby, before cleft surgery
Joaquin holding a picture of himself as a baby, before cleft surgery

One more thing I would tell that family is that if they see that their child feels bad, for example, if he comes home from school in a bad mood, ask him what happened. If a child is bullied, the family sometimes has no other way of knowing.

It is bad to keep things to yourself.

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as of February 2023


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