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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Birth Defects & Genetic Diseases, Children & Youth, Children & Youth Services, Health, International, International Development

Mission: Smile Train is an international children’s charity with a sustainable approach to a single, solvable problem: cleft lip and palate. Millions of children in developing countries with unrepaired clefts live in shame, but more importantly, have difficulty eating, breathing and speaking. Cleft repair surgery is simple, and the transformation is immediate. Our sustainable model provides training and funding to empower local doctors in 85+ developing countries to provide 100%-free cleft repair surgery in their communities. We use the “teach a man to fish” model focusing on training local doctors to perform cleft repairs in their communities. Those doctors then go on to train other doctors creating a long-term, sustainable system. Patients see their smile for the first time, parents cry tears of joy, lives and communities are changed forever. As a result of our efficiency and with the support of our donors and partners around the world, Smile Train has transformed the lives of more than one million children by giving them the power of a smile -- that's roughly 350 surgeries a day and 128,000+ every year. Join us and change the world one smile at a time.

Results: Since its beginning in 1999 Smile Train has provided more than 1,000,000 free surgeries for children who would otherwise never have received it.

Target demographics: children suffering from cleft lips and palates

Direct beneficiaries per year: 127,000+

Geographic areas served: 85+ of the world’s poorest countries

Programs: Treatment program: free cleft surgeries - while our cost per surgery varies across the 85+ different countries where we have worked, our contribution per surgery can be as low as $250. This amount reflects the contribution per surgery that we provide our partner hospitals. They also cover a significant portion of each surgery as part of our cost-sharing agreement with our medical partners. Free medical equipment & infrastructure support - for many of our partners, access to safe operating rooms is their biggest barrier. Many struggle with old and inadequate equipment such as anesthesia machines and a lack of other equipment and supplies. Smile train provides financial support that has been used for everything from building new operating rooms to crucial safety equipment such as pulse oximeters and cleft surgical instruments and supplies including scalpels and sutures. All of these investments work to provide a significant number of incremental surgeries, but also result in safer and higher quality outcomes for children in need. Free ancillary treatment - every child with cleft needs more than just surgery. Often they also need orthodontic care and speech therapy. Where these services are available, we do everything we can to make them accessible to our patients. We pay for speech therapy sessions, orthodontic work and much more. Financial aid for poor patients - some of our patients are so malnourished they are not healthy enough to be safely operated on and are provided food for one to two weeks before surgery. Some of our patients are so poor they have no money to get to the hospital or to travel home after surgery. Sometimes they have no shoes and no money for food. We have special programs that give small stipends for these poorest of the poor. These expenses exclude $57,036,544 donated time and services from doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, organizations, companies, other medical professionals and medical facilities and supplies.

public education program: every year, people in developing countries isolate or abandon their newborn babies because they don't know a cleft is a simple birth defect and not a "curse from god. " thousands of children with clefts are never brought to hospitals for treatment because their parents don't know clefts are treatable. Thousands of people in developing countries come to smile train for information on how to find a good cleft team and how to take care of their newborn babies with clefts. Through direct mail, websites, newspapers, radio, tv, public service announcements, documentaries, public relations, social media, etc. , we raise public awareness about clefts in developing countries and in the united states.

training program: smile train provides free training and education to cleft care professionals around the world. Access to education and training opportunities is critical to smile train's mission of empowering local medical teams to provide safe, high-quality cleft care. Over the past 15 years, we have provided support for more than 1,500 medical conferences and training opportunities to improve cleft treatment in the developing world. Smile train supports hands-on and workshop-based training opportunities to improve the skill level of cleft care professionals in the developing world. Recent initiatives have focused on supporting training programs for cleft care nurses and anesthesiologists, including the development of the smile train safe nursing care saves lives program in africa that has now been scaled and implemented for smile train partners around the world. Smile train is innovative in its approach to provide quality training to medical professionals worldwide. In the developing world, surgeons often do not have access to the latest innovative techniques and updated protocols for cleft surgery. Smile train partners have conducted over one million surgeries worldwide and lacking access to such resources can be a barrier to their continuing education and quality improvement. Smile train recognized this problem and since 1999 has distributed free virtual surgery training materials to 40,000+ medical professionals in 149 countries around the world. Smile train took this technology to the next level and recently released the first open-access, web-based, interactive virtual surgery simulator designed to enhance training for surgeons on how to repair clefts. The simulator links state-of-art surgical resources to the most remote parts of the world, and changes the paradigm of surgical training internationally. The simulator was distributed to 1100+ smile train partner surgeons worldwide. Since the launch of the simulator, smile train confirmed users of the system in more than 90 countries around the world, including places where over half the population lives below the poverty level and where the per capital annual income is less than $500 per year. Through this unique approach smile train has leveraged technology to change the course of medical education while also improving the lives of children born with cleft in the developing world.

Community Stories

13 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters



Rating: 5

My experiences witnessing the barriers to dental care motivated me to become involved with the organization Smile Train. I have fundraised for treatment for children with clefts and provided literacy to the community about cleft conditions. My involvement with this organization not only fulfilled me deeply, but also gave me a background in oral and maxillofacial terminology while also improving my communication and teamwork skills. This experience will inevitably prepare me for a career as a dentist and help me reduce health-care disparities.


General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

From Chicago to Mexico
Graham Elliot Takes a Journey of Smiles to Visit Smile Train’s Local Programs in Mexico

I remember like it was yesterday… I arrived in Mexico City on my Journey of Smiles hosted by Smile Train (smiletrain.org), the world’s largest cleft charity, and was greeted by the most heartwarming welcoming party imaginable; a choral group of seven children, all of who had undergone surgery to repair a cleft lip or palate. I learned that not only did the singing boost the children's sense of self-esteem, but it also acted as a form of speech therapy that the kids actually enjoyed doing.

After the joyous singing and dancing came to end, a group of us drove out of the city to visit with Jasmine, a seventeen-year-old single mother of two. The newest addition to her family, a six-week-old baby boy name Ivan, was born with a cleft lip and palate. This was not caught during her routine ultrasound so it came as a total surprise, leaving Jasmine wondering what to do or where to even start.

At that very moment all I could think about was my son Conrad who was born with a bilateral cleft lip. My wife Allie and I were also caught off guard as we knew of nobody in our family that was born with a cleft. Our doctor at that time mentioned that a bilateral cleft could be indicative of Down syndrome, so we didn’t know what to expect or prepare for. Although we sympathized greatly with Ivan’s mother considering our similar situation, we reassured her that everything was going to be fine because she was in good hands with Smile Train. We even showed before and after photos of Conrad's surgery so she could get a sense of what to expect.

We're happy to say, little Ivan has received his first surgery. Allie and I are hoping to make it back down to Mexico City to assist in any way and be there for support. It's safe to say that Ivan will need some additional surgeries, but with Smile Train's outreach and ability to create sustainable ways to repair clefts, he's most certainly set up for success.
It was great to see firsthand that Smile Train is there to help turn those dreams into a reality. I am happy that I was also able to share my story with one of Smile Train’s patients while in Mexico, giving them comfort in knowing that they are not alone. All parents want the same thing for their children – a long, happy and healthy life.

(Photo Credit: Baby Ivan and me just after I finished giving him his midday bottle.)

Review from #MyGivingStory

1 Claire27

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I have chose this charity as it's a life changing operation which is simple. I was lucky to have free surgery in the UK after being born with a cleft lip and palate ,but so many children are left in isolation with untreated clefts.
The operation gives a immediate transformation and children see their smile for the first time. I am pleased to say I am supporting this charity fundraising by taking part in a event locally in Cornwall near lands end. Looking forward to giving the children the power to smile.


General Member of the Public

Rating: 1

$250 per child.
approximately 120,000 children helped last year.
That's $30,000,000.
They raised almost $200,000,000 according to Forbes.
They spend $170,000,000 on everything, except helping the kids.
Only 15% of the money goes to the kids.


General Member of the Public

Rating: 1

I am very disappointed in this organization. I understand that children have this and it can be pretty bad as my son was born with cleft lip and palate but I called to do the donation to give back to what I have paid so much in medical for and not just medical but it is all around for them with dental and all. I called and they told me that they don't make any contributions within the United States to the families that really need the help here. As when my son had his. We are still paying some of the medical bills for it and will until after he turns 18. He has had right now two surgeries and is turning around for a possible third reconstruction. It amazes me that we have so many children that need this in the states to know that they are not and will not even try to help with the surgeries here. I had these specific questions before I even would consider donating and was very disappointed. There is so much more that can be done here to help fellow Americans as well. I am disappointed that they are taking money from the all of us to send overseas to help children there when children as my son could have used the help for it as well. Very disappointed with this charity.


General Member of the Public

Rating: 1

Many years ago this was a good organization founded by a plastic surgeon who saw a need for his skill set and gave years of his life to give impoverished disfigured children a fighting chance at a normal life. THAT HAS NOT BEEN THE CASE FOR MANY YEARS. I don't believe anyone would fund what this "charity" has become. If you have any doubts about where their priorities are, take a look at their very fancy NYC offices, their payroll, the very limited information regarding the way they operate today, as well as the complaints about the inadaquate medical practices they have been accused of.

I took the time to write an email asking to be removed from all of their lists as I have been receiving up to three separate solicitations in any given week and if for no other reason feel the waste of paper and postage is a sin. No response from anyone in the organization, but now they are soliciting on every web page I visit that accepts advertising. This to me, borders on criminal and certainly is not how I want to see money I give to any charity used.


General Member of the Public

Rating: 1

SmileTrain posts highly offensive web ads depicting disfigured children. I consistently complain to every website carrying such ads. I can support this work, which may be very beneficial to these unfortunate kids, but there has to be a better way than their ad campaign.


General Member of the Public

Rating: 1

I am overwhelmed by solicitations from Smile Train. It is esp. irritating that I obviously have to go out of the way to stop them. I was esp. turned off by the one that said, "Donate now & we will stop sending you these letters-- so you won't have to see these faces." I feel like the victim to receive the letters with these pictures on the OUTSIDE of the envelope. I give to at least 30 other charities. I am most moved by the Carter Foundation and other charities that help with PREVENTION of disease or family planning. Smile Train is not where I want to send my money & I want them to never contact me again.


General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I had never been active in charity or nonprofit work prior to this past year, when I had an incredible personal experience with SmileTrain that, to me, proved its worth as a tireless and inspired organization devoted to performing good works. Last July, I traveled to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. While motorbiking through the Tanah Toraja region with a friend, I met a local villager named Natsir who was working as an amateur English teacher in the area. After talking for a bit, he invited us to accompany him to his home in a nearby village. We headed up into the hills to his modest house, where he introduced us to his family, poured us cups of tea, and toured us around his small farm. However, I was deeply affected when I saw that Natsir's youngest son Winner, who was two years old at the time, was suffering from an unrepaired cleft palate. Unfortunately, given the family's lack of financial resources and the region's underdeveloped medical infrastructure, the simple procedure needed to remedy his condition was out of the question.

When I relayed this story to my mom, she knew of SmileTrain and thought perhaps they could help. She was able to get in touch with the SmileTrain field officer in Indonesia who was enthusiastic about the potential to help Winner. Unfortunately, the only information I had to help them locate Natsir was his first name, his profession, and the name of the village in which I had originally met him. It was a long-shot, but I forwarded these details to SmileTrain and hoped for the best.

In January, I received an email from our contact at SmileTrain. Through the tireless efforts of their organization, they were able to locate Natsir and his family in their village! As it turns out, Natsir's other son was also suffering from a cleft palate which I did not notice because he did not have as severe a harelip. Both the boys were granted free corrective surgeries and successfully had their operations on January 14 in the city of Rantepao. Now they are in recovery and, in a short time, will be able to give big fat smiles like never before.

The fact that SmileTrain was able to track down this family in such a remote location with so little information is truly remarkable, and as a result, the lives of these two boys have been completely transformed. This organization is certainly worthy of your support, and my experience showed me that their donations are being put to work exactly where they should be. I cannot sing their praises enough- this is exactly what a charitable organization should be doing.


General Member of the Public

Rating: 1

I was waiting in the doctor’s office for my appointment and came across a magazine article for Smiletrain. I was so touched I wanted to donate right away. I just wanted to quickly make sure it was a legitimate charity. After finding out how much the CEO makes a year it was actually possible that I could have over looked it . However I then read a review from someone that was actually trying to make possible donators like me feel guilty by downplaying that Hugh CEO salary and quilting me by stories such as - "what If I where the next child in line for the surgery but the donations ran out". And then thankfully that stupid review snapped me out of my crazy thought process. Because If I where the next child in line for surgery and the donations ran out from people like me that make $28K a year I would have been heartbroken and crushed by a greedy evil CEO. I will continue my search for a charity that is just that a charity.


General Member of the Public

Rating: 4

I'm an RN, and I have worked with newborns with cleft lips and palates. Most often, this defect is a complete surprise. There are often feeding issues, so it's a difficult time for the families The first surgery in this country is usually done at 3 months of age, and I am always amazed how good the kids look after just one surgery. Luckily kids in this country are treated, not the case in third world countries. I understand that this is not just a genetic defect, but is also related to poor diet. I totally agree that the CEO salary is ridiculous, but the work that is done is essential. I don't know how they manage to perform the kind of work that they do at so little cost. Just imagine how many more surgeries could be done if he cut his salary!