Posted by Elizabeth Cavasso on Mar 01, 2019
When was the last time you did something for the first time?
Imagine being a first-time parent. For months you and your spouse have discussed names, speculated about the baby’s personality, and wondered about who the baby will look like. After months of pre-natal care, finally the day of birth arrives. You are excited to meet your new little human, and hope that the delivery goes well and the baby is perfect in every way.
Amara’s cleft palate before surgeryThe birthing process lasts for hours or sometime days. Never-the-less when the baby arrives and the struggles of the delivery are cast to the wind, you look into the eyes of your newborn child. Unconditional love, unconditional love interwoven with a thousand questions and fears. Your baby is the one in 300 in northern Baja California. Mexico that is born with a cleft palate.

In the United States, one every 700 babies are born with a cleft palate. Fortunately, for most babies in the United States, the life-changing surgical process begins early in the their life. For children in medically underserved areas, many do not have access to treatment and are ostracized by society because of their physical deformity.

Volunteer DDS from Southern California treat a young patientAs Rotarians, we know that together, we inspire, connect, and transform lives. When Tina Spencer-Mulhern was planning for her term as District 5190 Governor, she had a dream. Inspired by her own partial cleft palate experience, Tina decided that her signature project would be to raise $30,000 to support Smiles Without Borders. The mission of this 501(c)(3) foundation is to provide dental education and treatment, at no cost, to underserved children in developing countries.

In short order, District 5190 raised funds and presented them to the Smiles Without Borders Foundation in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. The gift was then redirected to the Thousand Smiles Foundation which provides free life-saving surgeries to children so that they can eat properly, speak normally, and be more accepted in their communities. If you would like to know more about the Thousand Smiles Foundation check out

District 5190 volunteers team up and construct a  new computer officeThe Thousand Smiles Foundation is in the later stages of building a new clinic. Patients now have access to a modern dental facility and x-ray equipment. Two operating rooms will come online by May 2019. Four times a year, medical, dental, and general volunteers comes together to screen potential patients, provide dental care, and offer cleft palate surgeries. Those at need reoccurring surgeries return every three months to continue with reconstruction that may take up to 12 surgeries from infancy in to early adulthood.
Smiles Without Borders, Thousand Smiles, and District 5190 Smiles work together to bring smiles to Mexican childrenA couple dozen Rotarians and friends from D5190 recently travelled to Ensenada for a two days of work at the clinic. The main project was to frame in an office for the computer manager. Half the group worked on this task, while the rest of the group served lunch to patients and their families or toured the new facility.
A handful of folks got to meet with Amara, a two-year old girl who was going in for her fourth cleft palate surgery. Amara, named after her father Amar, and her mother come from Tijuana every three months for successive surgeries. Thanks to generous Rotarians and the Rotary Foundation Amara is well on her way to living a normal life with her loving parents.
To top off this transforming adventure, a check for $303.50 was presented on the behalf of the Modoc Middle School Interact Club to the Smiles Without Borders and Thousand Smiles foundations to cover the cost of Amara’s surgery. This gift is a powerful example of how our youth are joining with Rotarians in doing good in the world.