Silvia Backes is the Program Manager of Smile Train South America. On this occasion, she tells us about her beginnings in Smile Train, how the integral treatment of cleft lip and palate could be given in the region even in the context of a pandemic, her favorite memories with the organization and more.
How did you decide to be part of Smile Train?
I had just finished a master's degree in International Cooperation and when a colleague told me about the vacancy for Program Manager in Argentina, and said: It's perfect for you! And she was right. Smile Train represents my ideals of assistance while helping others become stronger. I believe in that.
What do you like most about your job?
The opportunity to see the help we give materialize. And that this also means a development of the health system, of knowledge and technology transfer, that actually remain in the country where we are working. Also, of course, seeing smiles on people's faces!
What challenges do you find and what is Smile Train's project for South America?
We are working so that Smile Train is better known in the region and more patients know where they can find the treatment they need. Our goal is for all those born with a cleft lip to have access to safe, high-quality multidisciplinary treatment so that they can live a full and healthy life.
How did you feel Smile Train remained connected during the Covid-19 pandemic months?
With the help of technology, Smile Train and its partners in South America reacted quickly so that patients and families could have some kind of accompaniment during the Covid-19 pandemic. In some cases, they were even able to continue with their therapy, as in the case of speech therapies. That is the beauty of Smile Train’s model as, unlike other NGOs, we are present in the countries, empowering local professionals. We are united at a distance, never too far.
Are there any frequent questions from patients you have received during these past months?
The main concern continues to be the postponed surgeries. But it's important to understand that for Smile Train and our partners, patient safety is paramount. And we need to be patient. Surgeries will resume as soon as possible. In the meantime, we’ll continue to accompany them.
How is Smile Train South America team constituted?
We are 3 Program Managers - in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. A Program Director and an Area Director who oversees all of our work under our Vice President and Regional Director for the Americas. In addition, we have communication experts in 4 countries.
What motivates you to create smiles?
Smiles are endless. They are not used up or are running out. The fact that a child has the possibility to smile and that this represents his ability to live with all his rights, is my main motivation.
Any anecdote that has made you smile or delighted?
A consultation that I accompanied in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia Argentina. I was there to support the multidisciplinary team that was being formed in Ushuaia and Río Grande, where access to fissure treatment is still very incipient. They scheduled several patients in the same day with the entire team: Surgeon, Dentist, Otorhinolagingologist and Speech Therapist. A man came with his 9-year-old daughter and he was very excited. He said in tears that it was the first time in his daughter's life that an entire team had seen her all together, and discussed her case. And then, when I asked the girl what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said “neurosurgeon”. I then thought how important a good treatment was for that girl to fulfill her dream, and I felt excited for her.
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