Celebrating 25 Years: Shaymi

Your support for Smile Train does so much more for families than you might think

The only thing that could excite Maria more than the thought of becoming a nurse was the thought of becoming a mom. She and her partner were living in Maria’s father’s house when they got the good news. She was in nursing school at the time and he didn’t yet have a steady income, but she was going to have a baby and she would love her to the moon and back and nothing else mattered.

Not even becoming a nurse. With her family’s support, Maria made the tough decision to drop out of nursing school to focus on her baby full-time.

She didn’t miss it much. With each day, even as sickness consumed her mornings and nausea her nights, her and her partner’s happiness and anticipation swelled steadily as her midsection. Every check-up brought more good news, more to look forward to.

At the six-month milestone, the couple all but raced to the doctor’s office for Maria’s 4D ultrasound to see who their baby would look like. They held each other close and held their breath as the technician put the probe on her belly.

She’ll never forget that moment. “It was like a bucket of cold water. I didn’t understand why; I felt guilty.”

Her baby had a cleft. They had missed it before because she always covered her mouth with her little hand.

Her partner squeezed both of his girls closer. He knew they would need all the love and care he could give them, and he promised that he would always be there to give it.

New Beginnings

Nothing could have prepared Maria for holding Shaymi to her chest and seeing her face for the first time. She fell in love more deeply than she ever thought possible. When she brought Shaymi home, the whole family fell in love with her, too, and offered to help in any way they could, even if they weren’t sure how.

Shaymi before cleft surgery
Shaymi loved to smile even before cleft surgery

Maria did some searching online and found Misión Caritas Felices (MCF), a Smile Train partner in Lima. They added her to a WhatsApp group for other local mothers of babies with clefts, and suddenly, the cloud of loneliness and guilt that had been hanging over her head for three months vanished. There were others who understood, and they were eager to listen.

Before she even knew how to get to their hospital, MCF had already given her so much healing. But nothing would be better until her child’s cleft was healed. And that would take longer than anyone could have anticipated.

Care Through Crisis

The family discovered MCF in early 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic forced cleft surgeries in Peru to be delayed, but here, too, they were never waiting alone. The other moms in the group were waiting, too. Because the team at MCF all lives in the Lima area, when Maria had a question or just needed encouragement after a bad night, they were there for her. And, in the fall of 2021, when the local authorities finally deemed it safe to resume cleft surgeries, they were on the phone, ready to schedule the surgery Shaymi needed to smile and thrive as soon as possible.

That’s the advantage of Smile Train’s model. Unlike other cleft charities that fly outside doctors into — then out of — other countries to perform free cleft surgeries for a few weeks when conditions are favorable, Smile Train partners with and invests in local healthcare professionals like the team at MCF. For the past 25 years, our model has built healthcare capacity the world over, kept care going through crisis, connected families in 90+ countries with local experts they can trust, and sponsored more free, life-changing cleft treatments than all other organizations combined — more than 1.9 million.

Care That’s Close to Home and Close to the Heart

Maria was nervous when they took Shaymi to the operating room, so the staff stayed by her side with lots of hugs and a listening ear. When they returned Shaymi to her arms a few hours later, they gave her space to bask in her baby’s new smile, then taught her how to feed her while her palate healed. No matter how many times she wanted to review, no matter how many questions she asked, they never pushed back or made it seem like they had anywhere else to be. In those vulnerable moments, Maria felt like they loved her baby almost as much as she did.

Shaymi today, smiling and dancing
Shaymi today, smiling and dancing

This kind of personalized, patient care is one more thing Smile Train’s unique model makes possible. As is timely follow-up: That day, MCF scheduled Shaymi’s second surgery for exactly when the doctor recommended, four months later.

Maria’s experiences with MCF inspired her to make a decision, one so intuitive and so necessary it didn’t even feel like a decision at all: She was going back to nursing school.

“The nurses took very good care of me and my daughter and all the mothers with their children, and I realized that it was my vocation. I also wanted to help people,” she said. “That's what I like, to be able to help, to tell moms that everything is going to be fine, to reassure them.”

Going the Extra Smile

When Shaymi was two, MCF offered to enroll her in free psychosocial counseling, made possible by Smile Train. The girl was never shy and her surgical scars healed well. Still, Maria worried about what bullies might say, so decided to sign her up. Speech therapy followed when she turned three.

Shaymi brushing her teeth
Shaymi knows the importance of a healthy smile

Today, Shaymi walks and smiles with confidence. She goes out of her way to show people her scar and tell them the story behind it. She is happy with the way she looks. “Nothing intimidates her!” Maria laughs. “She’s very alert, she picks things up quickly, and she’s smart.”

"I Want to Be the One to Comfort Them"

The truth is, though MCF is helping Shaymi develop these traits, she comes by them honestly. From the time she decided to go back to nursing school, Maria has cared for Shaymi all day while her partner works, then taken classes over Zoom at night. The family still doesn’t have much money, but they’re saving what they can so Maria can finish her degree and work in nursing or pediatrics. When she needs some motivation, she thinks of Shaymi and the healing the team at MCF gave her when she needed it most.

Maria holding Shaymi
Maria and Shaymi

“I know there are other moms like me out there, and I want to be the one to comfort them,” Maria said. “I want to let them know that it can be scary to see your child bleeding, with a scar. But you should know that your baby is in good hands, that you should remain calm because if you are scared, you will pass it on to your children. They feel even though they are babies. I tried to be calm so that my daughter would be calm, too, and everything went well.”

Shaymi in her grandfather’s arms as he holds a picture of her before cleft surgery. Maria stands to their left
Shaymi with her grandfather and Maria

“I want to thank MCF and Smile Train. Everything went very well, my daughter is very healthy, calm, and speaks well. I am very grateful.”

You can be the one to offer comfort, love, and care to children and mothers who need it.