Samantha Young, of Australia, shares her inspiration for becoming a Frequent Smiler, one of Smile Train’s monthly donors committed to helping save the lives of children with clefts every day.
I was born with a cleft lip and palate, a trait that runs in the family — my father and uncle were also born this way. I had surgeries and other needed treatments like speech therapy and braces until I was 13, with my family there for me the whole way.
Growing up, my speech difficulties were the most difficult part about my cleft, even more than the hurtful and thoughtless things people would sometimes say to me. I’d be very nervous to introduce myself and start conversations, but once I got over that initial fear, I was very much a chatterbox. My speech is still something I’m mindful of today, mainly because my name starts with an S.
Aside from that, having been born with a cleft wasn’t really a major part of my life or identity. Then, around 10 years ago, the US-version of Cosmopolitan magazine had an article on worthwhile charities to support. I was quite surprised to find a small blurb about Smile Train. Until then, I was quite naive to my privilege and had just assumed everyone got the same cleft surgeries and treatments that I did. Inspired and curious, I began keeping track of Smile Train’s activities around the world and following them on social media, but my involvement didn’t go much beyond that.
I love to travel, so when I learned about a Smile Train Journey of Smiles to the Philippines in November 2019, I signed up right away. A Journey of Smiles is a trip to a country where Smile Train has a presence, giving those who care about the organization the opportunity to meet patients and see the work done by local professionals first-hand. I thought it would be a nice opportunity to see a new part of the world and meet other people impacted by cleft. I never imagined it would change my life. I couldn’t believe the quality of the cleft surgeries being done and how far the technology has advanced since I was a kid. Even more amazing were my fellow Journeyers — sharing such a special experience with a group of likeminded individuals really creates a unique, lasting bond.
The person who has stuck with me most, however, was a little boy named Dylan, who I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with as he was attending one of his Smile Train-sponsored sessions with a speech professional. Dylan was so happy and engaged, just like every young child should be, yet, I was keenly aware that without Smile Train, his situation could be very different. So many children with untreated clefts live with constant health and speech issues that can affect their ability to go to school, hold jobs, marry, and so much else.
The journey challenged me to be more open about having been born with a cleft and to do more to help others in need. That’s why, as soon as I got back, the first thing I did was sign up to become a monthly donor, or Frequent Smiler, as we’re known.
As a Frequent Smiler, creating smiles for children in need is part of my monthly budget. Since I’m terrible at remembering to do things, being a Frequent Smiler also ensures that I stay accountable to my commitment to give. And after seeing Smile Train’s work on the ground, I have full confidence my donations are being used where they’re needed most.
I’ve found the best benefit, however, to be the most unexpected. Every month when the donation pops up on my statement, no matter what life is throwing at me at that moment I’m able to put things back into perspective and realize how fortunate I am to be able to give to those who don’t have the same healthcare I did as a child. Those precious numbers on my bank statement also bring back memories of those beautiful children in the Philippines, reminding me that I’m directly contributing to giving children like Dylan the confidence to build strong, outgoing personalities.
I deeply admire all of Smile Train’s patients and their families. As someone who had to undergo many surgeries and other treatments as a child, I know that while it isn’t always easy, it does make you stronger. If I could say one thing to a child whose cleft treatment I helped support, it would be, “Well done for being so brave at such a young age. The strength will stay with you.”
You, too, can help save a child’s life each month. Become a Frequent Smiler now.