Baja Charity Corner: Thousand Smiles Foundation

Thousand Smiles: Improving Lives, One Smiles at a Time

By Hugh Kramer


Along with the happy memories one returns home with after an adventurous trip to Baja are often some sad ones.

Among them perhaps are images of families scavenging for food to get through another day or cribs full of abandoned babies from an orphanage visit.

Such was the case nearly thirty years ago, when several Rotarians from San Diego met a family that had an infant horribly disfigured with a cleft palate. Learning how prevalent this condition is in Mexico, they recruited other Rotarians who were oral surgeons, plastic surgeons, dental specialists, along with their assistants to immediately address this devastating issue.

Thousand Smiles Foundation

Children with cleft palate before visiting the Thousand Smiles Foundation clinic


That’s when Thousand Smiles began providing cleft palate surgeries and dental care at no cost to needy Mexican families.  Since 1985, Thousand Smiles has provided over two thousand cleft palate surgeries and provided tens of thousands of needy kids with dental care.

Thousand Smiles is a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, but unlike some other similar, and better known, organizations with multi-million dollar budgets and payrolls, Thousand Smiles is 100% run by volunteers with no staff and no office to maintain, with all funding going to provide for the needs of children.

Every three months, over one hundred skilled volunteer medical and dental professionals (some regarded as the best in the country) along with ordinary volunteers travel to Ensenada to provide well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars of free services to these desperate children.

The work literally transforms lives—and families.  Children who have not had treatment for their disfigurements rarely go to school and are ridiculed and often live as outcasts all their lives.  Many parents believe that a cleft-palate baby is a punishment for some wrongdoing, and some fathers abandon their families.

Thousand Smiles Foundation

“After” photos of children who have received cleft palate surgery from the Thousand Smiles Foundation clinic


Fortunately, word of the miracles that Thousand Smiles provides has spread, and families from various parts of Mexico come to our quarterly clinics.  Last month I watched the nurses bring a baby out of the recovery room to present to the parents.  Both the mom and dad burst into tears to see their new “normal” baby, and then the nurses burst into tears.  “It’s what keeps us coming to every clinic,” they said.

My wife, Carol, and I have been volunteering at Thousand Smiles clinics for over six years, and I have been honored to serve on the board of directors for the past four years. One young man who had his cleft palate repaired at the clinic twenty-five years ago, stopped by our May clinic to thank the Thousand Smiles volunteers for giving him a normal life.  He is now married, has two kids, went to college and now has a good job.


Thousand Smiles FoundationIf you would have any interest in learning more about Thousand Smiles or assisting in our efforts to provide medical and dental assistance for families in Mexico, some dealing with unimaginable medical issues with their children, you may enjoy this video:  check out the Thousand Smiles website: or call the Discover Baja office (800.727.2252).  Many thanks from Discover Baja and the families served by Thousand Smiles.


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