I just like to smile, smiling’s my favorite! Buddy, the Elf said it best. It’s simple. It doesn’t cost a thing. And yet it brings the world a little closer. But imagine if you couldn’t smile? And because of it, you were ostracized from your community and unable to attend school or hold a job. This is what happens to countless individuals born with a cleft lip and/or palate in the developing world. Cleft is the leading birth defect in many developing countries and it leaves children to live in isolation with physical barriers and little to no opportunity to thrive.

Smile Train is an international charity that provides 100%-free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive post-operative care to children in over 85 developing countries. Their vision is to ensure that every single one of these children can lead a full and productive life because they believe every child deserves the ability to not only smile, but also thrive.

A cleft occurs when body parts and structures don’t fuse together properly during fetal development. There is no one reason this occurs, but experts believe there are many factors, including genetics, family history, environment and nutrition which may increase or decrease the likelihood of cleft lip and/or palate. Whatever the cause, more than 170,000 children born in developing countries are born with cleft lip and/or palate EACH YEAR. This is in addition to the millions of children who are still waiting to receive the cleft treatment they desperately need. Many of these children have difficulty eating, breathing, hearing, and speaking.

Cleft repair surgery is safe and the transformation is immediate. Smile Train’s sustainable model provides training, funding, and resources to empower local doctors in developing countries to provide 100%-free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care in their own communities. Depending on the severity of the cleft, a child may require additional care that could include dental, orthodontic and/or speech therapy. But even with all of that, the smile is an instant enhancement and all it takes is a moment to recognize and rejoice!

Smile Train’s local medical partners have performed more than one million cleft surgeries since 1999. Their medical advisory board is comprised of the best and brightest cleft experts in the world; from maxillofacial surgeons to anesthesiologists to speech pathologists. Not only are they shaping smiles for the first time, they are leading efforts to raise awareness and change the public attitude towards this birth difference. Their goal is to reach even the most remote areas in the world, serve the poorest of the poor and present hope to every family with a child who is living with an untreated cleft.

Sometimes the very best kind of help you can give is to teach another person. Teach them a skill or provide them with the knowledge to expand the intended outreach and further serve the masses. So yes, this organization also employs a sustainable model that focuses on training and empowering local doctors to provide cleft care in their own communities; so more clefts can be treated, more patients can be cared for and more smiles can be shared! Smile Train is focused on the single, solvable problem of cleft. Did you know that a cleft repair surgery can be corrected in as little as 45 minutes for as little as $250?! When was the last time you got to save a life for so little?! So think about hopping on the Smile Train to see the many ways you can gift a worthwhile smile!

Smiling is the prettiest thing you can wear. So get ready to grin from ear to ear. Stunning shades to suit you for the season with an exquisite style that’s dramatic, dazzling and absolutely desirable. Add in some global goodwill and a little humble heroic effort and you’ve got yourself this month’s UrbanHero halo. Now show us those pearly whites because you’re never fully dressed without a smile!

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