Vanesa and Sofia Complete Each Other’s Journeys

A daughter gives her mother education and a bright future

Healing from a cleft always takes more than a one-and-done surgery. Vanesa had five cleft surgeries before she turned 18, and it still wasn’t enough: She still had an open fistula in the roof of her mouth that severely garbled her speech.

But it would have to be enough. She no longer qualified for her parents’ insurance and her family could not afford treatment without it.

Some of her earliest memories were of going to the hospital for major facial surgeries. She spent her entire childhood in and out of doctors’ offices and operating rooms… and she could brave it all only because everybody told her that, if she stuck with it, she could graduate high school one day and pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. But now that day was here, and rather than a world of opportunity opening before her, Vanesa saw only a door slamming in her face.

“I felt very frustrated because I felt that people did not understand me, and a teacher told me, ‘Before studying to be a teacher, you have to learn how to speak.’”

Vanesa smiling

Her attempts at alternate career paths all led to more dead ends. It was clear to her from the moment she opened her mouth that her job interviews were a waste of time.

Many years later, Vanesa was devastated when her daughter Sofia was also born with a cleft. After working so hard for so long to suppress all the sadness, sickness, anger over all that her cleft had cost her, it surged inside once again, with all the ferocity of a mother’s love for her child. She couldn’t bear the thought of passing her fate onto her.

So she resolved that she wouldn’t. “I wanted to provide her with all the treatment so that she could have a better future than the one I had had,” she said.

At first, it seemed like nothing would change. Sofia was also harassed for the way she spoke.

But Vanesa never quit and eventually found Hospital Notti. There, thanks to their partnership with Smile Train, Sofia received every surgery she needed, plus personalized orthodontics and speech therapy — all for free.

Her transformation was stunning. Instead of hiding in the bathroom, Sofia was now spending her lunchtimes laughing with friends. She felt emboldened to lift her voice so loud and proud that one of Latin America’s biggest recording artists took notice and sent her love.

Vanesa and Sofia smiling
Vanesa with Sofia

Vanesa felt her daughter’s joy as though it were her own, but that wasn’t enough for Sofia. She told her cleft team Vanesa’s story and asked whether Smile Train only sponsored care for children.

They had good news for her: Smile Train sponsors free, comprehensive cleft care for all in need.

At last, Vanesa would complete her cleft journey.

Her transformation was no less dramatic than her daughter’s. Now able to speak with confidence and clarity, Vanesa picked up right where she left off on her 18th birthday and returned to school to study special education.

Vanesa teaching her class
Vanesa teaching her class

She’s now building a career empowering others whose dreams society likewise wrote off. It’s everything she spent a lifetime imagining it might be.

“I feel very happy because it is what I wanted most — to have a career and get ahead. Thanks to Smile Train’s support, I [finished] my degree. As a woman, I feel more confident. Above all, I want to set an example for my daughters, that they can get ahead.”

Vanesa with her family
Vanesa with her family

Vanesa wanted us to close with her blessing for you, Smile Train’s supporters who changed her and her daughter’s lives forever:

“Que las lluvias que te mojen sean suaves y cálidas. Que el viento llegue lleno de perfume de las flores. Que los ríos se sean propicios y corran para el lado que quieras navegar.”

”May the rains that wet you be soft and warm. May the wind arrive full of the perfume of flowers. May the rivers be conductive to you and run to the side you want to navigate."

This Mother’s Day, give a second chance and smile to another mother and a daughter just like Vanesa and Sofia.

Our impact in Argentina

as of May 2023


cleft surgeries sponsored since 2002


active partner surgeons


active partner hospitals