Iván Vélez has been the Smile Train Program Manager for South America since October 2020.
He is from Medellín, Colombia and lived in the United States for many years. Business Administrator by profession, he has several years of experience in the educational and government sector in Colombia. Ivan recently worked as Academic Director of Winston Salem, the nationally recognized Instituto de Idiomas in Medellín. Ivan finds purpose in community service and therefore has led several initiatives working with vulnerable communities where poverty and youth violence are a common denominator.
As Program Manager for South America, Ivan works closely with our partners in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
In this interview, he tells us a little about his role in Smile Train, the challenges of the region, his favorite moments in the association, and much more!
How did you find out about Smile Train?
I found out about Smile Train on internet and social media.
What do you like most about Smile Train's mission?
The sustainable model “teach a man to fish” through training and empowerment local medical multidisciplinary teams with the goal of performing 100%- free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive care for children around the world.
What added value do you bring to the organization?
For the past 10 years I have led an organization focused on providing educational opportunities to less privileged children, collaboration, understanding, respect, diversity, integrity, and compassion.
What countries do you lead and what challenges does that region have?
I lead Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia. When it comes to challenges every country faces different ones, we have political instability, medical infrastructure, lack of surgeons, access to remote areas, skepticism towards medical care, etc.
What is the importance of education and how do you see Smile Train working on it within the comprehensive treatment of children with cleft?
Education is one of our main pillars because this is how we obtain our sustainable model and comprehensive care is so important because not only a repair cleft surgery is needed but Nutrition, speech therapy and orthodontics are vital part to fully achieve the impact that ST wants their patients to have, we provide life experiences that allow our patients to live to the fullest and fulfill their dreams.
What can families and teachers do about bullying in schools?
Bullying can affect everyone, is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, depression, anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, and suicide. Families and schools can do so much about it, can work on awareness, reach out to their children they may suspect is being bullied and remind them they are not alone. Let them know that they are loved and essential and they matter, being kind and accepting someone who has felt excluded will improve their self-esteem and counteract the negative effects of bullying.
How do the region and partners prepare after the pandemic?
We have a survey in the region and collected important data about our partner’s COVID-19 challenges, medical staff shortage, medical supply price increase, etc. This information is not being used to draw vital strategies.
Any anecdotes that make you smile?
Many anecdotes make me smile, hearing good news about patients that thought they did not have any treatment options until they find ST, a baby's laughter when I walk into a medical office.