Global Smile Foundation (GSF) volunteers first met Diego De La S in Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1996. Born with a cleft lip and palate, De La S was only three months old when his mother brought him to see the team of medical volunteers in the hope that they would help her baby. That year, De La S underwent a cleft lip repair and, a year later, a cleft palate repair.
Since then, De La S has seen the GSF team every year for comprehensive cleft care, including speech therapy, dental and orthodontic care, psychosocial counseling, and two subsequent cleft operations — his final procedure being a rhinoplasty in 2017. The care that GSF provides for De La S and other patients in Ecuador is the same as a patient would receive in the United States: long-term, multi-disciplinary cleft care delivered by highly-skilled cleft experts.
From beneficiary to volunteer
In 2018, 22 years later, De La S earned a degree in social communications from the Universidad Politécnica Salesiana and currently works at the Community Development Office of the Prefectura del Guayas, Guayaquil’s regional government office. He is also one of many GSF patients who has become a volunteer with Fundacion Global Smile-Ecuador, a sister organization that provides local support for the Foundation’s work.
With the Foundation, De La S volunteers as a photographer during each two-week medical mission and at special events throughout the year. He is also a GSF Ambassador of Good Will and recently delivered the keynote speech at GSF’s 2018 Anniversary Celebration in Boston, MA. He recounted his journey for the audience, saying, “Global Smile Foundation changed my life…I am where I am today because of Global Smile Foundation and I want to give something back to my community in honor of what has been done for me.”
Giving back to the community
When asked about his role as a volunteer, De La S shared his unique perspective: “I want to help the children and their families in any way that I can. I understand their struggles, because I overcame the same hurdles. I want every child on the mission to forget about their fears, even if just for a little while, knowing that their life will forever change for the better.”
Lisa Crist, Director of Development, Global Smile Foundation, [email protected]