Teach a Man to Fish in Panama

April 18, 2019 | Smile Train

In 2017, Estefani and Gabriel were a young couple living with Estefani’s mother, Erika, in a rural area of Panama surrounded by rainforest. When the couple learned they were having a child, they were thrilled, but they also worried about whether they would be able to financially support an infant.

Home in the Amazon

Erika offered to help support her grandchild through selling molas, handmade fabrics common in her Guna ethnic heritage.

Mola Panama

In July, Estefani and Gabriel’s son, Liam, was born with a cleft lip. The family feared that Liam would be unable to live a happy life, so they traveled from their rural home to Panama City to see whether anyone could help their son.

Thankfully, they ended up at Children’s Hospital, where they met Dr. Carlos Alvarado, who had been training to become a Smile Train partner surgeon for the past several years. He knew that Liam couldn’t receive cleft surgery in Panama City the family would be able to afford, but his Smile Train training mentor, Dr. Julio Gonzalez, in Santiago de Veraguas, would give the child the help he needed.

Dr. Alvarado assisted the family for the next three months and made sure that Liam was fit for surgery. The family then took the six-hour trip to Santiago de Veraguas, and Smile Train partner Dr. Julio Gonzalez performed Liam’s cleft surgery.

The family poses together

Estefani reports that, after the surgery, the whole family was able to smile again.

Smile Train partners Panama

In December 2018, Dr. Alvarado (pictured right) and the Children’s Hospital in Panama City officially became Smile Train partners. Dr. Alvarado will eventually teach the skills he learned from Dr. Julio Gonzalez (pictured left) to other surgeons in the region, so that even more children can obtain quality, long-term, and timely cleft treatments.

Liam smiles

Today, Liam is a happy, extroverted, and playful child. Estefani and Gabriel have started taking college courses, in the hope that higher-paying jobs will provide more opportunities for Liam. Both say that they see a bright future for their son.

Dr. Alvarado will perform Liam’s cleft palate surgery at the end of this year.


If you would like to help us enable forever smiles and second chances at life for children like Liam and help parents like Estefani and Gabriel provide a better life for their children, please make a gift today.