Angel’s Story: Smile Train Working to Reach 80 by 2030

Globally, 1 in every 700 children are born with a cleft lip and/or palate, making clefts the leading birth defect in many developing countries. Angieleca (Angel) Hayahay was one of these children. Although she dreamed of becoming a nurse from a young age, she quickly faced discrimination which threatened to destroy her dream, all because of her cleft lip. While applying for a job at a call center to help pay for her education, she was told that there was a strict policy against hiring anyone with a cleft.

Many cultures view a cleft as a curse or a lifelong disability, with some even believing that a physical deformity is a sign of a mental disability as well.

Thanks to the help of Smile Train, who provided free surgery to Angel to repair her cleft, she was able to persevere and meet her dream of becoming a nurse in 2009. She now works at the same hospital where she received her surgery, Philippine Band of Mercy, which is a partner hospital of Smile Train.

Angel achieved her dream of being a nurse following free surgery by Smile Train. Image: Smile Train

Angel’s story comes at a critical moment for global surgical, obstetric, trauma and anaesthesia care. A manuscript developed by the 80+ members of the G4 Alliance, including Smile Train, was recently published in the May issue of the World Journal of Surgery. The paper announces the G4 Alliance’s unifying target of access to safe surgical and anaesthesia care for 80% of the world by the year 2030, and proposes 15 key consensus indicators that will track global progress towards this goal. Angel is a great example of how Smile Train is helping to achieve this goal, because as a child she was able to receive safe surgical care with Smile Train. Now, Angel is able to provide safe surgical care to other children in need.

Angel, left, working as a nurse in the
Philippine Band of Mercy hospital.
Image: Smile Train

Angel is now seen as a role model to those with clefts, proving how they too can achieve dreams which once appeared unattainable. Working as part of the Smile Train outreach program, Angel locates patients who, due to their remote location, cannot access or are not aware of the proper care which is available to them.

She says, “I feel…very thankful that there are people and organizations, like Smile Train, who are willing to help children with clefts for free….Being a nurse and serving children with a cleft is very rewarding….During our medical outreach programs in the provinces, parents look at me and make me a model for their children who are afraid to undergo surgery. I am proud because I can now be an instrument to inspire others.”

Smile Train is an international children’s charity working to ensure that children in developing countries who suffer from untreated clefts have the opportunity to receive a 100% free cleft repair surgery in their own communities.

Untreated clefts mean that children have difficulty eating, breathing and speaking.

Smile Train empowers doctors in more than 85 countries to provide these surgeries, training local doctors who can then go on to teach others, creating a sustainable and long term system. So far, the lives of more than 1 million children have been transformed.

The G4 Alliance represents a network of over 80 member organizations working in more than 160 countries that are dedicated to increasing access to safe, timely and affordable surgical and anaesthesia care for the estimated 5 billion neglected surgical patients. We believe surgical care is essential to robust health systems and represents an important strategy for supporting peace, prosperity and sustainable development around the world.

This piece was written as a collaborative piece by Smile Train and the G4 Alliance.