Emily’s Journey to the Philippines

August 7, 2019 | Smile Train

The following is a firsthand account of Smile Train’s Director of Direct Marketing, Emily McAuliffe’s, recent journey visiting Smile Train partners and patients in the Philippines.

I joined Smile Train 3 years ago because the organization’s sustainable model for treating cleft lip and palate felt unique and worthy of my efforts, but it wasn’t until recently that I had the opportunity to see our programs in action for the first time and truly appreciate how special the work is.

Waiting room full of people

My journey started in Manila, at our largest local partner, Philippine Band of Mercy (PBM), which performs around 2,000 cleft surgeries each year and provides year-round comprehensive cleft services, such as speech therapy. I was in awe of the volume of patients who arrived for treatment and how quickly they were served by our very dedicated and capable partner surgeons.

Gif of patients and operating theatre

To meet the high demands of the patients, PBM was like a well-oiled machine — their treatment process was so efficient. For example, I met the adorable Denise before her screening on Monday and on Tuesday watched her cleft lip surgery performed by Smile Train partner surgeon Dr. Cruz!

Keziah before her surgery in mom arms

Keziah after her surgery

Next, I learned that Dr. Cruz’s next patient, Keziah, was another child I’d met the day before. I sat with her mother and assured her that Keziah was in good hands with Dr. Cruz. (Was I right or what? What a beautiful transformation!)

Child playing speech game with therapist

Then, I visited Our Lady of Peace Hospital, where our partner, the Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation, was holding speech therapy sessions. I observed children light-up with confidence as they engaged in play-based speech therapy with talented speech professionals. When talking with parents, I learned that the children’s families couldn’t afford speech treatment without Smile Train’s assistance.

Emily poses with Kristoffer

The following day, our local Smile Train staff escorted me to the modest but welcoming home of 10-year-old Kristoffer and his mother. There was a language barrier, as the family primarily spoke Filipino, but through my local colleagues’ translations, it was clear that they were so appreciative of Smile Train for supporting his life-changing surgery.

Emily poses with Smile Train patient Elkisha

Then, we walked down the road to visit 6-year-old Elkishia, who made such an impression on me. I learned that she’d been abandoned by her parents and now lived with her grandmother, Lola. Lola shared that Elkishia was having difficulty with her speech and was bullied at school. So, while our local staff members planned how to get Elkishia to speech therapy regularly, I gave Elkishia a teddy bear. It didn’t take long before she warmed up, and we developed a special connection – she didn’t want us to leave!

Smile Train patient shows thank you card

The third day entailed visiting St. Frances Cabrini hospital, to which several former patients and their parents had made a trip just to meet visitors from Smile Train. We received handwritten “thank you” letters and the biggest, warmest hugs to show their gratitude to Smile Train for giving their children a life-changing gift that they had been unable to provide themselves. 

As a Smile Train employee, I’ve understood the magnitude of our reach and organizational achievements — a cleft surgery every 5 minutes, more than 1.5 million cleft surgeries supported, and 90+ countries where we’ve helped children — but meeting the actual patients and hearing their stories has been the most heartwarming experience I’ve had in my life. The service we provide with the help of our amazing partners truly changes people’s lives in a profound way. I returned to our headquarters in New York with a renewed energy to do my part to spread more smiles around the world!


If you would like to help us provide forever smiles to children in the Philippines and other countries with Smile Train programs around the world, please make a gift today.

If you are interested in seeing Smile Train’s impact firsthand, just like Emily, please visit the Journey of Smiles section of our site.