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Has any charity anywhere had better ambassadors than those who represented The Smile Train at the ‘Turning Tears into Smiles’ charity dinner in Hong Kong on 5 October?
I’m referring to Dr Shell Xue, Chief Project Officer of The Smile Train China, and Wang Li, a teenager from Likou Town in Kiangsu Province, China.
No-one who attended this event will ever forget the spell-binding impact of these two impressive young women. Dr Xue spoke with immense grace and clarity about The Smile Train’s work around the world, noting that the night’s proceedings would go to “families living on less than a Dollar a day and where nobody cares about children with clefts”.
“I want you to know,” she said, “that we are very glad that you care.” She told the story of cleft children in Uganda, where all cleft babies are callled ‘Ajok’. It means ‘cursed by god’.
She told the story of a little girl who at just 3 days old was left in a box by the side of the road in Inner Mongolia, because she had been born with a cleft. Now, thanks to The Smile Train, she is a normal little girl able to dream happily about what life holds for her.
And then Dr Xue introduced Wang Li. This brave young lady was taut with nerves at rehearsals earlier in the day, not confident about her reading or her Mandarin (she speaks with a strong regional dialect). She decided to throw away her notes and just speak from the heart. She did this in front of an audience of nearly 300 business executives and she never put a foot wrong.
“I will always try to help other children with clefts, who cry themselves to sleep every night like I did for nine years,” she told a completely hushed audience. “I always wanted to play with kids my age but didn’t dare. I was afraid they’d laugh at me.
“When they gave me a mirror after surgery I saw a different person looking back at me. A smiling person. I think that was the first time I ever smiled. Since then I have not stopped smiling.”
She concluded: “Whatever becomes of me, I will never forget how much all of you have helped me. I will never forget how lucky I am that The Smile Train came my way.”
Nor will anyone who was there.