Smile Train's Inaugural LIT Congress

In Santiago, Chile, 200 medical partners from across Latin America united for a three-day cleft care confab

r. Judy Ward and another doctor sitting down with a Simulare cleft model on the table. They are talking to Dr. Juan Carlos Zambrano who is standing over them and leaning on their chairs.

To us, all Smile Train medical partners are part of one global family with one common language: smiles. This past June, we hosted the first-of-its-kind Smile Train Leadership, Innovation, and Training (LIT) Congress hosted in Santiago, Chile, bringing our Latin American family to a space 100% dedicated to further advancing cleft care capabilities across the region.

Nearly 200 medical partners attended! Over three days, they all bonded, learned, shared, and of course, smiled.

Camile Richards in a crowded room smiling. Two people in the foreground are holding coffee cups and out of focus
Odontologist Camila Richards from Chile mixing and mingling with people from across the region over coffee breaks

Following a rousing welcome from Smile Train’s President and CEO Susannah Schaefer, the Congress kicked off with workshops for our partner surgeons, speech professionals, and orthodontists. Each group was treated to multiple presentations and interactive activities to help them hone their skills.

Huáscar Aillón wearing a headlamp sewing medical stitches onto a Simulare cleft model
Huáscar Aillón, a maxillofacial surgeon from Bolivia, practicing on a Simulare Medical cleft model

At the first workshop, 30 cleft surgeons practiced their techniques on the latest high-fidelity surgical simulators from Simulare Medical, a Division of Smile Train . Afterward, participants were invited to join two more workshops to discuss how to better collaborate with other members of the cleft team.

Some went over to the speech workshop, which covered speech care’s relation to a wide range of topics from breastfeeding to surgery and orthodontics. Our partner speech specialists weren’t there only to listen: The enthusiasm in the room grew tenfold when specially made mannequins were brought out for practice. While applying their craft with the mannequins, every specialist had their game face on, all with an excited spark in their eyes.

Dr. Daniela Tanikawa speaking at a podium
Dr. Daniela Tanikawa

Other surgeons joined the orthodontics workshop. They were in for a treat as Dr. Daniela Tanikawa, a plastic surgeon from Brazil, demonstrated a cost-effective approach for lip taping and nasal elevation that she was researching. For partners operating where the cost of materials is high, this was a game-changing idea.

Dr. Roberto Flores speaking at a podium
Dr. Roberto Flores, Associate Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Director of Cleft Lip and Palate at NYU Langone Health, and Smile Train Medical Advisory Board member, opened up the second day with a warm welcome speech

The next two days were filled with panels and keynote speakers. Participants presented original research on cleft care as well as specific challenges and solutions their countries bring to the table. The room was bursting with passion and new inspiration. It was a prime example of our “teach a man to fish” model playing out in real-time.

Two participants sitting at a conference table. Dr. Jerem Cruz is taking notes while the Dr. Lidia Tamayo is listening intently
Dr. Lidia Tamayo (L) and Dr. Jerem Cruz (R) jumped at the chance to learn about different areas of cleft treatment

Of course, the event wasn’t all about the scientific agenda. We had many opportunities for attendees to get to know each other and have fun! Doctors had a blast testing out our Virtual Surgery Simulator . Others put their best funny faces on for our photobooth complete with Smile Train props! A grand gala dinner and casual coffee breaks fostered eager conversation between people from all reaches of the region.

Francisca Salazar and Scarlette Norambuena posing with photobooth props. On the left, a sign reading ‘Smile Train Team’ and ‘I’m an Orthodontist.’ On the right, the orange smile logo
People used photobooth props to show off their Smile Train pride!

The LIT Congress was a huge step toward an even brighter future of cleft care in Latin America. Our medical partners came away more connected than ever before. Hand in hand, they’re changing countless lives throughout the region, and always with a smile.

Help Smile Train spread safe care worldwide.