Teacher Consultant Ashley Barbour shares what led her to become a member of the inaugural Smile Train Cleft Community Advisory Council (CCAC) — a group whose personal experiences with clefts help advance Smile Train’s marketing initiatives and communication strategy.
My name is Ashley Barbour. I’m a sweet, creative, thoughtful, big-hearted Midwestern woman from Ann Arbor, Michigan who works as a teacher consultant for the deaf and hard of hearing. I enjoy working out, writing for my blog, eating sushi, and watching Netflix.
I was born with a complete bilateral cleft lip and palate which, while growing up, was something I preferred not to think about. My strategy was to blend in as much as possible, in hopes that people wouldn’t notice I was different.
A few years ago, I saw a baby with an untreated cleft while I was putting oranges in my shopping cart at Meijer. I had seen my baby pictures, but this was the first time I’d seen an untreated cleft in-person and it impacted me in the most significant way. I went over with my eyes welling up and told the mother and grandmother how absolutely beautiful this child was. Through my tears, I shared that I, too, was born cleft-affected and that I’ve grown to be a smart, successful, and social person — I could feel them fill with hope as I spoke.
This chance-encounter had a profound impact on me — seeing the child’s beauty allowed me to see the beauty inside myself. It also made me realize that there is power in sharing that cleft-affected children will be okay. I was inspired, so I created my blog CleftLove: Learning to Love my Smile where I write about my experiences growing up and living as a cleft-affected person.
As cliché as it might sound, giving back to the cleft-community through my blog has given my life purpose. Growing up, I didn’t really know any cleft-affected people, children or adults, but I’ve had the opportunity in the last few years to really get involved with both cleft-affected people and their families. It has been so wonderful to discover how brave and resilient cleft-affected people are and to begin to give our community a voice.
I’m able to confidently assure families in the United States that their cleft-affected little ones will be okay because of our access to excellent medical care, but I know that cleft-affected children in developing countries are often not as fortunate. Without proper medical care, children living with untreated clefts deal with social isolation and often struggle to breathe, eat, and talk — that’s where Smile Train comes in. The life-changing surgeries and comprehensive cleft care Smile Train helps to provide addresses these physical and social issues.
I’m so excited for the opportunity to work with Smile Train through CCAC because it allows me to contribute in yet another way to this beautiful and special community that I love so deeply. I’m fiercely loyal and protective of them and I want to help ensure that cleft-affected people are portrayed truthfully and respectfully in advertising/marketing materials for Smile Train. I look forward to being a member of this special team and continuing to make a difference in the cleft world.
If you’d like to learn more about ways to help children with untreated clefts, please visit the Get Involved section of our site. Your support can help a child receive their new smile and a second chance at life.