Art director and fashion fixture Julia Restoin-Roitfeld had always been a fan of the charity Smile Train, the world's largest cleft charity. Having a child made her particularly aware of the life-changing effect the operation can have. She recently joined Smile Train on a trip to Guatemala and we caught up with her to hear about the trip and see photos that are currently featured in a gallery show in New York.
How did you get involved with Smile Train?
I was always moved by the work Smile Train did and the change it brings to one's life. When becoming a mother, I became even more conscious on the luck I have to have a baby girl that was born healthy. I can't imagine the pain a mother goes through when her child is born with cleft palate and/or lip and not being able to do anything for her child. Feeling helpless for your child is the worst. As a mom, I wanted to help other moms to be able to give their children a normal life. I saw the difference a surgery on a children born with cleft lip and/or palate makes in their lives, but one of the biggest differences is the relief and smile on his/her mom's face. I got in touch with Smile Train via Twitter, visited their office and have been in touch ever since.
Tell us about your trip to Guatemala. Was it your first time traveling with Smile Train?
It was my second trip. My first visit was to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. It was a short but intense trip. It was truly an eye opening trip and helped me really see the changes this surgery has on someone's life. I saw results on kids, but also witnessed a surgery on an older man. We were also a fun group and it was amazing meeting and sharing this trip with people wanting to [create] change, too.
The second visit was more targeted as we had planned to do this photo exhibition beforehand. So the mission was even more precise. But overall, it was the same. I was able to meet some of Smile Train's previous cleft patients and future cleft patients. In addition, I had the opportunity to see Smile Train's local surgeons perform life-changing cleft surgeries firsthand at one of Smile Train's local partner hospitals.
How many children suffer from cleft lip and/or palate around the world and how complicated is it to correct the problem?
I honestly cannot say how many, but definitely too many. However I witnessed a surgery myself, and even though the surgeon needs a high expertise, it's a quick surgery barely leaving any scars and radically changing the life of someone.
Cleft lip and palate is not just a physical issue, but affects breathing, eating (feeding for infants!) and speech. And no more bullying. Smile Train is doing a great job partnering with the best surgeons around the world to [conduct] free surgery for all the patients in need.
What can ordinary people do to help support the work?
Any donation helps. Any dollar counts. Any awareness via social media is also important.
To learn more about how Smile Train's sustainable approach means donations have both an immediate and long-term impact, please visit smiletrain.org.
Photos courtesy of Julia Restoin-Roitfeld and Smile Train