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Local kids learn that a smile really can be free

[ 2009-02-03 14:18]     字号 [] [] []  
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For Chinese children with cleft lips, their ship - or in this case, train - has finally come in.

A US-based charity called Smile Train has pledged to banish the congenital condition from the mainland and has begun by providing free surgery to 160,000 youngsters here.

The results, as expected, are dazzling. Just ask Li Yanxin.

The 11-year-old from Shandong province was for years unable to grin or speak clearly due to an unsightly cleft lip that made her embarrassed and ostracized in public.

What this Cinderella in the wings needed was not a magic stiletto, pumpkin-carriage or knight in shining armor to right the wrong, but enough money to facilitate surgery to put a smile on her face.

Time and again, she struggled with feelings of being unloved, outcast…different.

"People have always been scared of being with me," she told China Daily. "Simple things like feeling a father's hug, or playing with the other kids at school, were just dreams to me."

Not any more. Now Li can smirk and laugh with the best of them thanks to the world's leading charity for children with cleft lips that financed her surgery using the apparatus of a cooperative program. Such an outreach surpasses any efforts by a charity of this kind in the last 10 years. It has also brought tears and joy to at least one more member of the Li family, not to mention the tens of thousands of other thrilled parents.

"The charity has totally changed everything," said Li's mother, still awestruck at witnessing her daughter's first smile. "She looks so beautiful right now."

Li's father abandoned their family several months after Li was born. Her mother then battled through chronic depression to raise her daughter with the help of relatives and local social welfare institutes. Money was tight and surgery was not an option - until recently.

Smile Train provides local doctors in developing countries with training and equipment to perform cleft operations. It has established programs in 76 countries.

A 45-minute operation can repair the problem," said Co-Founder and President Brian Mullaney. "Children in developing nations are more likely to suffer a life of poor nutrition and social rejection without treatment."

Smile Train has increased the number of partner hospitals in China from 163 to 397, allowing the organization to change the lives of over 100 children every day of the year.

The group announced on January 14 plans to engage in new strategic partnerships with the Ministry of Health and the Chinese Stomatological Association.

"It is a milestone and we are proud to be a partner with Smile Train," Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu said. "It is an important day for China, and it is an important day for all of the thousands of children - past and present - who have gained from the (charity's) services."

One day soon, cleft lips in China will be a thing of the past, promised Charles Wang, co-founder and chairman of Smile Train.

"We guarantee every poor child in China who needs surgery for a cleft lip (will get it)," he said. "And we are confident China can be the first developing nation to be 'cleft-free' within the next five years."

Internet users can learn more about the organization by logging on to www.smiletrainchina.org.


1. How many youngsters will benefit from Smile Train’s free surgeries in China?

2. An operation by the charity to repair a cleft lip is how long?

3. Who did Smile Train recently announce partnerships with?


1. 160,000.

2. 45 minutes.

3. The Ministry of Health and the Chinese Stomatological Association.

(英语点津 Helen 编辑)

Local kids learn that a smile really can be free

About the broadcaster:

Local kids learn that a smile really can be free

Nancy Matos is a foreign expert at China Daily Website. Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, Nancy is a graduate of the Broadcast Journalism and Media program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Her journalism career in broadcast and print has taken her around the world from New York to Portugal and now Beijing. Nancy is happy to make the move to China and join the China Daily team.