Smile Train Announces One Million Cleft Repair Surgeries In Just 15 Years
Apr 3, 2014 - 10:30:24 AM

( - NEW YORK, April 3, 2014  -- Smile Train, the world's largest cleft charity founded in 1999, is proud to announce it has provided its one millionth free cleft repair surgery in just 15 short years.

"Smile Train believes every child born with a cleft deserves the opportunity to live a full and productive life," said Smile Train CEO Susannah Schaefer. "Now, just 15 years after the organization's founding, we are thrilled to have provided life-changing surgery to one million patients living in extreme poverty worldwide, whose families could not have afforded the cost of the surgery on their own. This 'smilestone' and every surgery that led up to it could not have been possible without the generous donors who have supported our work."

Operating in over 85 countries, Smile Train provides training and funding to local doctors so they can help cleft patients in their own communities. Smile Train's sustainable model empowers local doctors to provide safe, quality, and 100%-free surgery to 340 children every day.

"Smile Train has maximized our ability to provide surgeries by supporting local partner hospitals and educating doctors and staff, thus our 'teach a man to fish' approach to cleft surgery is the mantra for our success, allowing the organization to leverage the support from our hundreds of thousands of donors, in order to assist children suffering from clefts worldwide," said Schaefer.

The recipient of the one millionth surgery was Osawa Owiti, a six-year-old boy from Bunda in the Mara region of Tanzania. The operation took place at Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation (CCBRT) Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

"The impact of cleft is not just cosmetic," said Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Smile Train Vice President and Regional Director, Africa. "Most who suffer from unrepaired clefts cannot eat or speak properly, are unable to attend school, and can become deeply stigmatized by their families and communities."

Osawa was identified through a mobile phone recruitment program pioneered by the hospital and partially funded by Smile Train, which engages ambassadors to identify cleft patients throughout Tanzania and uses mobile banking to fund patient travel to the hospital. This approach to patient outreach has allowed CCBRT Hospital to increase its surgeries by 150% to children in need.

"Osawa was always a shy boy, rarely looking people in the eye and turned his head to the side to laugh," said Osawa's mother Ada Atieno Owiti. "After the surgery, Osawa could not stop looking at himself in the mirror! He said to me, 'I look so nice. I look like my friends.' My husband and I are forever grateful to Smile Train and its supporters for giving Osawa not just a new smile, but a fresh start at a life with opportunities."

Smile Train marked the momentous occasion at their "Power of a Smile" gala at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on Wednesday, April 2.

In addition to announcing the one millionth smile, Smile Train today revealed a new logo and launched a fully integrated marketing campaign. The "Power of a Smile" campaign, which is a departure from traditional marketing efforts by charities, tells the stories of Smile Train patients from their point-of-view and how their lives have been transformed by cleft repair surgery. The campaign includes television, digital, print and social engagement to generate awareness and drive donations. The campaign also features the work of noteworthy talent including City of God director, Katia Lund, and award-winning photographer, Alex Webb. For more information on the campaign, visit

About Smile Train

Smile Train is an international children's charity with a sustainable approach to a single, solvable problem: cleft lip and palate. Millions of children in developing countries with unrepaired clefts live in shame, but more importantly, have difficulty eating, breathing and speaking. Cleft repair surgery is simple, and the transformation is immediate. Smile Train's sustainable model provides training and funding to empower local doctors in 85+ developing countries to provide 100%-free cleft repair surgery in their own communities. To learn more about how Smile Train's sustainable approach means donations have both an immediate and long-term impact, please visit

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