This year was the 10th anniversary of the Concordia Summit, an event that convenes global leaders to discuss some of the world’s most pressing challenges – and some of the world’s most innovative solutions. Smile Train President and CEO Susannah Schaefer took the stage alongside Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake and Miss USA Cheslie Kryst to discuss cleft lip and palate, Smile Train’s work, and the enduring power of a smile.
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Cheslie kicked off the event with remarks around the incredible success that Smile Train has seen over more than two decades of empowering local medical professionals and advancing sustainable surgical care. More than 1.5 million patients with clefts in over 90 countries around the globe have received cleft surgery and gotten the opportunity to live full, healthy lives.
Susannah Schaefer shared the impact that COVID-19 has had upon Smile Train programs around the globe – while worldwide postponement of cleft surgeries in the spring and summer of 2020 led to Smile Train partners putting more than 37,000 surgeries on hold, Smile Train’s model of local partnerships allowed teams to quickly adapt, utilizing telehealth and virtual care, and resuming surgeries as soon as it became safe.
The key to Smile Train’s impact lies in the work of our partners – by providing funding, resources, and training to local medical professionals instead of flying in Western surgeons in short-term, ineffective missions, Smile Train is able to empower providers and support long-term change for cleft patients – and all surgical patients – in low-resource areas around the globe.
Cheslie and Kenyan shared their own experiences of visiting Smile Train programs. Cheslie visited Brazil in 2019, while Kenyan visited both Brazil and Mexico. During his trip, Kenyan was struck by the transformative power of cleft surgery and on-going, holistic cleft care.
“Being involved in Smile Train opened my eyes to a whole different world.” He said. The experience prompted him to reflect on what a smile means to patients with treated clefts. “It allows you to have a certain level of confidence and maneuver through the world when you have a smile you’re confident in.”
Cheslie agreed. “Not many people know that you have to go through speech therapy, that there are different procedures before and after the surgery.... It’s incredible to see how much Smile Train helps in the communities.”
For Smile Train to achieve its vision of a world where every child with a cleft is able to live a happy, healthy life, awareness and understanding of cleft lip and palate is crucial. Ambassadors like Kenyan and Cheslie are important for raising this message.
“It’s very important for athletes, and people with any type of platform, to get involved and give back to the community. I believe that children are our future. The innocence that they hold is refreshing to me.” said Kenyan.
“I couldn’t agree more with using your platform for good – not just athletes, but anyone with a platform. It was incredible for me as Miss USA to support Smile Train through the partnership it has with Smile Train through the Miss Universe Organization.” said Cheslie.
Another crucial element of success for non-profits like Smile Train are partnerships with corporations and other organizations, like the Miss Universe Organization.
“It is incredibly important for nonprofits to partner with corporations and other organizations who can help bring the nonprofit’s vision to life. Smile Train has a long, successful history of working with corporations and other organizations that help us further our goals.” said Susie, noting recent partnerships with Scottish charity KidsOR and corporate partner GSK. “We are always looking for additional corporate partners to help expand and extend the reach of our work.”
Alongside ambassadors like Kenyan and Cheslie, and alongside dedicated partners, Smile Train will continue to empower providers and patients alike to give every person with a cleft the opportunity to live a happy, healthy life.