From Brooklyn to Brazil: A Transformational Journey

Smile Train

Guest blogger and Smile Train staff member, Jacob, shares his experience meeting Smile Train patient, Maria Emanuela, on his most recent trip to Brazil.

cleft lip

Recife, Brazil –My name is Jacob. I’m the Associate, Special Projects and Assistant to the CEO and have worked at Smile Train for almost two years. Recently, I was given the opportunity to go to Brazil to visit our local in-country Smile Train partners and patients. I speak Portuguese, so I relished the opportunity to speak directly with patients and families without the need of a translator. This story is about my visit with a little girl named Maria Emanuela who received her free surgery four years ago thanks to our local Smile Train partners in Brazil.

We met Maria Emanuela’s father, Jobson, at a public square and were led through a maze of unpaved one-way streets, some of which had huge puddles of water and mud to navigate through. After ten minutes, I wondered if we would even be able to find our way out or even if we would be able to turn the car around.

Fortunately, after some struggle, we were able to find the house. We were greeted by Girlene, Maria Emanuela’s mother, and asked to come in as she hugged us and thanked us for visiting. Then I finally got to meet Maria Emanuela, although at first she was more interested in eating cake with her sister than meeting the strangers in her house. Soon, she began to show us to her bedroom and her collection of dolls.

I returned the family’s hospitality with a care package from a special Smile Train donor that had a lot of neat things for kids: a coloring book, bracelets, crayons, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, a small mirror, among other fun things that kids would enjoy. Maria Emanuela and her sister took to coloring immediately. Maria Emanuela promised that she would brush her teeth every day.

As a final gift we brought a picture of Maria Emanuela before her surgery, something that the family did not have. The child in the photo was almost unrecognizable to her parents, and we learned that the family sought treatment within seven days of Maria Emanuela being born. They said they had never seen anyone with a cleft lip before and were very relieved when they arrived at our Smile Train partner hospital, Center of the Care of Facial Defects at IMIP, to find other families and patients just like them. Our Smile Train partners talked to the family about how common cleft births actually are and the importance of following up with Maria Emanuela’s treatment schedule for a full recovery.

cleft lip

As we wrapped up our visit with Guaraná, a Brazilian soft drink, and some cake the family agreed to take some family photos outside the house as a way to remember the experience. We thanked them for their hospitality and started down the street. We had already walked down the street when to our surprise both Maria Emanuela and her sister came running up to me and my colleague with a request; they wanted us to write our names down on a piece of paper so they could always remember us!

To see a child with that much confidence, a child who when born was in need of so much help, who could have been left on the fringes of society merely for the fact that she was born with a cleft lip, to see that child running and smiling and courageous, is something that I will never forget. It put so many things in perspective about not only what Smile Train did for that little girl, but what Smile Train did for her family and her community.

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