The entire Cuchipe family works as ranch hands high atop the Andes Mountains, in a remote area of Ecuador. The youngest member, Fernanda, loves their hacienda-life most of all.
Fernanda’s grandmother, Erlinda, shares, “She plays with her uncles until they go to school, and then she works with me the rest of the day. She’ll do whatever I do — she’s like an adult. She especially loves taking care of the animals.”
Fernanda’s life wasn’t always so happy and healthy. Only three years prior, Fernanda’s mother, Wendy, was worried that her daughter might not survive at all. Fernanda had been born with a cleft lip and palate, and the family was unaware that cleft surgeries were possible.
Wendy described herself at the time as a scared 17-year-old single mother with little idea of how to help her daughter. Luckily, she had a supportive family to lean on and Erlinda was there to help her every step of the way.
During their first days together, Wendy panicked as Fernanda choked and spit up breast milk due to her untreated cleft lip and palate and she started losing weight. Formula was too expensive, as well as being hard to obtain regularly due to the family’s remote location.
Meanwhile, the owner of the hacienda told Erlinda about a friend, who happened to be a renowned cleft surgeon, Smile Train partner Dr. Pablo Dávalos. After a life-changing phone call to organize the journey, the family traveled down the mountain towards Quito to visit Smile Train Partner SECPRE — this is where Fernanda received her free cleft lip surgery.
Fernanda has gone on to have a cleft palate surgery and even receives free Smile Train sponsored speech therapy every time Wendy or Erlinda can make it to Quito.
Erlinda said, “We are so grateful to the doctors, Smile Train’s donors, and everybody who helped our little one. Look at her now! Fernanda can go to school, just like all of the other children her age. I wish that the people who helped us will always have the strength and energy to continue and that they’ll keep on helping more people.”