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 centre 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’s Story: From Facing Discrimination to Becoming an Inspiration

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

A recent study has found that a single cleft repair (which can cost as little as $250) enhances individual earnings by up to $42,000 per patient – leading to a global economic boost of up to $20 billion. Angel is a great example of this, as without an operation via Smile Train she it would be very unlikely she would have a job, let alone her dream job.

Angel’s Story: From Facing Discrimination to Becoming an Inspiration

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

Angel’s story 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 organisations, 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 programmes 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.

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Kirsten Ehrlich is currently studying archaeology at UCL, but is interested in pursuing a career in journalism after gaining her degree.

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