The following is Smile Train Accountant Jessica Lelling’s first-hand account of her recent journey, visiting Smile Train partners and patients in Kenya.
I was so excited for my first visit to Kenya. I was eager to meet the local doctors, to see the hospitals, and to witness the impact of all the generous donations I help process every day. I was not let down — my weeklong journey to Kenya was the experience of a lifetime.
When I arrived in Nairobi, my first stop was at Smile Train’s local partner Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital. Our guide was Sylvia Arnold, who has worked at the hospital for decades. She showed us the hospital’s facilities and walked us through what a typical visit would look like for a Smile Train patient. It was truly amazing how kind the staff were and how well these patients were cared for. At the end of the tour, I met baby Grace, who was being checked-in to receive a Smile Train sponsored cleft surgery later on that day. Grace was the sweetest baby who had a personality that lit up the room. I was so excited for her to receive her surgery and to have a beautiful new smile.
After visiting Gertrude’s, we traveled to a local village and met Lincoln, a child who had recently received a Smile Train sponsored cleft lip surgery. At first, Lincoln wasn’t too enthused at having strangers in his home, but his attitude changed once I let him play with my watch. It wasn’t long before he opened up and we became friends. By the end of our visit, a group of other children from the village had come to Lincoln’s home to see what was going on — all were admiring his new smile.
The next day, we traveled seven hours west of Nairobi toward Smile Train partner IcFEM Dreamland Mission Hospital. The long drive was filled with beautiful and varying landscapes of Kenya where we saw diverse ethnic groups, each with their own unique style. IcFEM Dreamland was built far from any city, but its large and beautifully constructed campus draws patients for hundreds of miles.
Excitingly, we’d arrived in the midst of an outreach campaign called ‘cleft week’, and many cleft patients had arrived for cleft lip and palate surgeries from isolated villages all over Kenya. I met patients before and after their surgeries, and even scrubbed in to witness a surgery myself! It was absolutely incredible to stand next to the local doctors as they performed a cleft lip surgery on a baby named Kayla — the reunion with her mother, after the surgery, is something that will stay in my heart forever.
Kenya is a truly wonderful place filled with amazing people — they have such a sense of community and love. Seeing Smile Train’s impact is something that I will never forget. I’m honored and excited to continue coming to work each day for such an incredible organization.
If you would like to help us provide forever smiles to children in Kenya, and the other developing countries with Smile Train programs around the world, please make a gift today.
If you are interested in seeing Smile Train’s impact first-hand, just like Jessica, please visit the Journey of Smiles section of our site.