Smile Train Choirs: Hearing is Believing

Six videos of children’s lives being changed one song — and one smile — at a time

The cleft choir at Hospital Notti in Mendoza, Argentina, performing on a scenic riverbank

Imagine telling someone your needs and being met only with a confused look. Repeatedly asking for help and hearing only, “Sorry, can you repeat that?”. Begging other children to leave you alone, but the laughter gets louder each time you open your mouth.

For so many people with clefts this is common. Speech issues are one of the most severe — and most often overlooked — consequences of having a cleft. Even after surgery, people with clefts can struggle to be understood when they speak, leading to a lifetime of frustration and missed opportunities.

Thankfully, Smile Train has a solution. By training local speech professionals in the specialized care our patients need, and making it possible for them to offer it for free, we are helping thousands of people each year find their voice.

Now, some of our partners are taking this transformational care one step further, helping children not only speak, but take the stage and sing.

The benefits of Smile Train Choirs go far beyond singing. In these special groups, children who once stayed home and avoided the public discover friends, a loving community, self-confidence, the joy of music, and the childhood they always dreamed of.

Here are just a few of their stories. Hearing is believing.

The Choir That Started It All: Coro FISULAB, Colombia

A few years ago, Dr. Pilar Echeverri, head of Smile Train partner FISULAB in Bogotá, was looking for ways to better engage her center’s speech therapy patients and bring more in. She hit on an idea to do something that no one had ever tried before: Form a choir made exclusively of children with clefts. The result forever changed the lives of her patients and is revolutionizing cleft speech therapy the world over.

Elizabeth, Colombia

Elizabeth loved to sing in church as a little girl, but soon stopped because her cleft made her feel too embarrassed. Now, she says when she sings with the choir at Fundacion Fábrica de Sonrisas in Barranquilla, “I feel big, I feel powerful.”

“The Choir of the Future”: Coro Notti, Argentina

Mariano Peralta was already an accomplished conductor when he accepted what he knew would be his greatest challenge yet: directing the choir at Smile Train partner Hospital Notti in Mendoza. Not only would he have to teach children with clefts how to sing, he would also need to help them feel prepared to do something they believed they could never do — raise their voices in public. What Mariano didn’t know was that his students would teach him more about love and resilience than he ever imagined possible.

Ana Beatriz, Brazil

When Ana Beatriz first came to Beija Flor Association in Fortaleza, she had a hole in the roof of her mouth that prevented her from forming certain sounds and going to school in peace. She was very private, very emotional, and cried all the time. Now, thanks to free surgeries, dental treatment, and speech therapy, “Bia” speaks clearly and loves to sing and dance with her friends in the choir.

Amelie, Chile

Before joining the choir at Fundacion Gantz in Santiago, Amelie sang all the time… in her room, for her stuffed animals. Her great-grandparents always asked her to sing for them, but she felt so ashamed that she would only sing a short verse or two before retreating back to the safety of her room. Now, Amelie says her safe space is on stage, singing and dancing with her friends.

A Mother’s Perspective: Lucas and Patricia, Brazil

When Lucas was born with a cleft, his mother, Patricia, worried he would never speak clearly or make friends. Undergoing four cleft surgeries before he started first grade helped him eat and breathe, but he still struggled to speak. He could barely look at the other children when he started school, let alone approach them. But now, as a member of Smile Train partner Saúde Criança’s choir in Rio, both he and his mother’s dreams for his life are coming true.

Help empower more children with clefts to raise their voices and surpass every obstacle.