I don’t know if you’ll be able to see the pictures from the email I’m copying and posting here, but if you can’t I will get this fixed later. I didn’t want to wait in posting this. Smile Train is an organization that is very close to my heart. I see the pictures of these children and I want to help them all. I encourage all of my readers to donate to Smile Train.
Here is an email I received this morning. Please take the time to read it. Oh, I should note that I didn’t receive permission from Smile Train to post this, so please consider the whole email copyrighted by them and not me.
“I will never forget a little 7-year-old girl who literally jumped into my arms-and into my heart.” -Christopher Meloni
The flight to Haiti from New York is just a little more than 3 hours but the distance between our two countries is VAST. The U.S. is the richest country in the history of the world with an average per capita income of about $40,000 a year. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with an average per capita income of $400 a year. 80% of Haitians live in poverty. 50% cannot read. The healthcare system is in shambles. Average life expectancy is 53 years. Almost one out of every 10 babies dies before their first birthday.
When our plane landed in Port-au-Prince, we went right from the airport to Cité Soleil, a densely populated shanty town where about 300,000 people live in unimaginable circumstances. It is one of the poorest slums in the entire world. In Cité Soleil there are no police, no sewers, no stores and little to no electricity or running water.
The stench was overwhelming. As we walked around it felt to me like I was walking on a gigantic landfill, stepping on garbage, human excrement, litter, refuse, rotting food, you name it, while hundreds of wild pigs were snorting and foraging all around us.
Everywhere I looked people were foraging too, looking for food, for plastic or metal cans, for anything they could use, like shoes or clothing.
I thought of Dante’s inferno and its Map of Hell-this place would have fit right in.
Many children rubbed their bellies and held out their hands, the international signal that says, “I am hungry will you give me some money.”
We came across a market where I saw something I will never forget. A woman selling cookies, made out of mud. Cookies that people actually buy and eat. I was incredulous. I held one and smelled it. Why would anyone eat something like this? I was told that in Haiti, for many people, the hunger pains are so bad they are given the nickname Clorox. Because it feels like there is bleach eating away at the walls of your stomach. So some children eat these mud cookies to fill their stomachs and fend off the hunger pains at least for awhile.
I stood there holding one of these mud cookies shaking my head.
How can it be that just off the coast of the richest country in the world, are 8 million people starving on an island eating cookies made out of mud? What is even more ironic is that the biggest health problem we face in the U.S. these days is obesity. It’s true. The leading cause of death in the U.S. is coronary and heart problems related to obesity.
Well, my depression lifted immediately when we got to our Smile Train partner hospital and saw HUNDREDS of children and adults who had come from all over Haiti to be helped. Smile Train distributed posters, ran radio and TV ads and spread the word far and wide that every baby, child and adult with a cleft who came to this hospital would be guaranteed free surgery.
I must say, it was a little overwhelming for me to see so many clefts in one place at one time. Some of them were extreme.
I spent a lot of time meeting as many children and their parents as we could. Through our interpreter who spoke Creole, we asked all kinds of questions.
What I came away with was that this Smile Train program was their only chance to ever get cleft surgery for their child. Many of these children had traveled for days, by foot, by boat, by bus, from very far away because this was their one chance, their one shot.
And I will never forget a little 7-year-old girl who literally jumped into my arms-and into my heart. Bergaline and her mother lived in Cité Soleil. Her mother said never in a thousand years could she ever raise enough money to help her child. We talked a bit and then I lifted Bergaline up and carried her into the O.R. to observe my very first cleft surgery.
And 45 minutes that would change the rest of Bergaline’s life.
Her surgeon, Dr. Michael Schaefer, was fantastic. He gave me a play-by-play as he gently, expertly and methodically deconstructed Bergaline’s cleft and then artfully put the pieces back together just like a jigsaw puzzle. I was really blown away with how dramatic the transformation was-as well as how quickly it all happened.
In Smile Train direct mail they always say the surgery takes as little as 45 minutes and I must say I have always been a little skeptical about that claim. But sure enough, in under an hour, about 50 minutes, I was lifting a sleeping Bergaline up from that O.R. table and carrying her to the post-op area. (Without all my questions and suture cutting they probably would have been done in 35 minutes!)
I almost sprinted to go get Bergaline’s mother.
There was not a dry eye in the room as we watched this mom cry tears of joy as she danced and hugged and said thank you again and again and again and again. Wow.
When I got out of my scrubs, I sat down in a hallway to drink some water and take a break. But as I looked out the window at all the children and their parents that were still standing in a long line, waiting to register, or arriving by foot after days of travel, it hit me even harder.
These kids have to be helped. None of these children can be turned away.
Before I went to Haiti, I thought Smile Train was a well-run charity that was doing some good work and helping a lot of kids. But I came back from Haiti with a much more intense point of view and a much greater sense of urgency.
There are millions of poor children in the world who are suffering with unrepaired clefts.
All of their suffering is completely unnecessary.
Every single one of these kids can be helped with this simple, cheap, quick surgery.
Smile Train is working feverishly to raise enough money to help as many children as quickly as it can.
If you can help us too, that would be great. If enough of us pitch in, we can actually solve this problem, we can help all the kids who are out there waiting for their chance to smile.
Thanks for reading my report and thanks for helping these kids.
All the best,
P.S. If you are wondering if I would go on another Smile Train trip all I have to say is just name the place and the date and I will be there.
P.P.S. I made a pretty neat video about my trip. You can check it out at