Heu Sochantra, a 10-month-old from the small rural village of Prey Vihea, Cambodia, was born with a cleft lip. When his mother, Thy Sumala, delivered Hue, she was frightened by her son’s deformity. Nobody in village had ever seen such a deformity. They could not explain it and did not know why it had occurred, so many of the families stayed away from Heu suspicious that his deformity may be contagious, or the child may be ridden with evil spirits.
Heu was brought to Angkor Hospital in Siem reap, Cambodia, by his grandmother, while his mother stayed home to take care of his three older sisters, and his father worked selling CDs in the hopes to raise a good day’s wage—the equivalent of $1—which would allow him to buy enough rice to feed the family of six for a day.
After a 90-minute surgery by Free to Smile’s team, and before putting small bandages on Heu’s tiny new lip, a nurse brought grandma in to see the results of the operation. In her native Cambodian dialect, the grandmother mumbled, “it is beautiful.”
Mishell Guarcas Xon
Mishell’s story is one of tragedy turned to hope. Born the ninth child of Rosa Xon Gutierrez, Mishell was born without one of her forearms as well as a cleft lip. Hoping to find help for her daughter, Rosa took her to a triage screening run by Partner For Surgery, one of Free to Smile’s partners in Guatemala, where she was determined a good candidate for surgery, to be performed by the next Free to Smile mission team. After a successful operation and with the help and support of her siblings, Michelle’s parents hope she can become a nurse or a teacher.
Juan Chic Tzoy
Juan Chic Tzoy is a nine-year-old boy who traveled six hours to be seen by Free to Smile Foundation. Juan is one of five siblings, whose father makes less than $5 a day as a corn and bean farmer. Juan’s father heard about Free to Smile’s team coming to Guatemala from local villagers who had read a posting at a local clinic. After a 90-minute procedure, Juan had the bright smile his father had wished for him since his birth.
Angel Victor Quino
Tomasa, Angel’s mother, made the 3.5-hour trip alone to San Juan Sacatepéquez so Free to Smile could help her son. At home, the family grows and purchases crops from neighbors to sell in Guatemala City. With 10 children including Angel, theirs is sure to be a busy household. And yet, when Partner For Surgery identified Angel as a candidate for Free to Smile’s next mission, Angel’s parents did not hesitate to embark on their third attempt at getting him surgery. With the help of Free to Smile and Partner for Surgery, Angel returned home with a new and beautiful smile.
Erick Fernando Caal Choc
Seven-year-old Erick was born with a disfiguring cleft lip. Shortly after his birth, his mother died. His father Daniel, who struggles with mental illness, brought Erick to Centro de Salud Bárbara to be treated by Free to Smile. Perhaps, Daniel tells the team, sometimes in an unfair world, there is justicia. The way he uses the word, the tone in his voice, the gratitude in his eyes, render it untranslatable.
When the nurse announces that it is Erick’s turn for surgery, Daniel’s eyes light up and in an act of blind faith, he entrusts his son to strangers. During surgery, Daniel sits with his hands folded in prayer. After an excruciating two-hour wait, Daniel is overcome with emotion when he sees his son again. He holds his hand and comforts him, no doubt whispering to Erick of justicia.