All posts by dpadmin


When we first met Debora and her family she was only three months old and her family was forced to leave the only home they knew in their small remote Mexican village because of Debora’s cleft lip.

You see, in developing countries, there is a common belief that children born with cleft lips are cursed and that their presence in the village will cause the livestock and crops to perish. Debora’s parents were forced to choose- leave Debora to die in a field or flee.

They left, finding a new home –a 10 x 10 dirt-floored room of a public bathhouse. They also found Smile Network, which provided Debora the gift of a new smile and a brilliant future.

Her parents told us they hold great hope that she go to school, grow into an independent woman and start her own business, a beauty parlor perhaps. Debora has a real chance at achieving these dreams because of the free life-altering surgery she received.

We had a special visit from Debora and her her mom this week at our Puebla mission and we are so happy to see she is a healthy, happy, thriving smiling two year old!

Debora before and after -updated


Edwardo Gutierrez is a jovial, friendly and brave 10 year old boy from a small farming town a 1/2 hour outside of Cusco, Peru called Pucyura.

He is the oldest of 3 children and is in the 4th grade. He loves Spyder Man, puzzles, computers and playing on the family farm. At the hospital, Edwardo was a hit with the medical team and families as he entertained the other kids waiting for surgeries. He also taught me how to say “Spyder Man” in Spanish, Hombre Arana, and would laugh every time I got it wrong.

Edwardo’s parents did not realize their son was going to be born with both a cleft lip and palate. However, as soon as he was born, he was taken to the hospital for treatment. There, his parents were told that he would need to wait 3 months before he could have his lip repaired due to his size. At 3 months old, he had his lip repaired, and today he is at Cusco Regional Hospital to have his palate repaired after his family heard radio ads promoting the Smile Network International mission.

Since Edwardo had his lip surgery at a young age, he did not endure the suffering that oftentimes accompanies a deformed lip. However, his speech has been affected by the cleft palate and he did endure teasing when he was younger because of this deformity.

Edwardo’s parents are grateful to Smile Network International and excited about the surgery as they know the results will bring better health and quality of life for their son.

I am grateful to Smile Network International for the opportunity to meet this warm, wonderful family and to make a difference in a child’s life.

Written by Natasha Freimark- Smile Network trekker and staffer

Natasha Eduardo

Deleth Ares

Deleth Ares-

Deleth is a nine-month old boy who lives with his mother, father and twin sister in Cusco.
Both Deluth and his sister were born with a cleft lip and palate.

It was very difficult for the young parents when their baby twins were born, both with cleft lips and palates. The mother believes something happened during her pregnancy that many have caused the children to be born with cleft lip and palate.

Deleth received a surgery for his cleft lip and is a beautiful little boy His sister, already had been operated on for her lip but was too small for her palate surgery this time. When we return in November, she will receive her palate surgery from the Smile Network team.

Deleuth and his entire family touched the hearts of the entire team. We look forward to seeing them back when we return for our next mission in November

Written by Nancy Peterson and Ann Lori, Smile Network trekkers and volunteers.

Deleth Ares Sullca.


We met Yino and his family, and they were easy to distinguish by their bright, traditional clothing. They traveled four hours by foot and another two by car. Seven-month-old Yino has never had a surgery before, and his family was very anxious in the waiting room.

Although no one else in Yino’s community has a cleft lip or palate, many members are supportive. Some people tease him, but his family is very loving and is determined to get him the best care they can. Yino currently has trouble eating, and hopefully after the surgery his nutrition will improve. His family heard about Smile Network on the radio, and hopes that more families will hear about and seek help from the organization in the future.

Yino’s family believes that this surgery will lead to a brighter future for their son. They hope that he will not need any more surgeries, and Yino’s father is excited for his son to look like him. They are hopeful that Yino will be able to grow up being treated normally, both inside and outside his indigenous farming community.

Written by Lisa and Robby Elm, Smile Network trekker and volunteer

Yino Quispe Canahuire

They Did It!

Day 4 Inca Trail Trek

Today was the last day of their 4-day trek. After three days of no-tech tranquility or torture (depending upon how one is wired) they will pass through lower elevation mountain passes covering 15 kilometers. The trekkers will break camp and part ways with the porters and cooks who have tended to them on their journey to this point.

Four hours into their morning walk they will arrive to Llactapata, which will be there last stop before arriving into Machu Pichhu. Llactapata otherwise known as “The Gate of the Sun,” is considered an engineering phenomenon. Anthropologist theorize that the Incans laid out their buildings in relation to the celestial paths of the sun and stars.

On the morning of the June solstice — the shortest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the holiest dates on the Incan calendar —Llactapata aligns perfectly with the Sun Temple at Machu Picchu and the exact spot on the horizon where the sun rises. The Incas were superb engineers; such an invisible axis couldn’t have been a coincidence.

From the gate of the Sun they will descend down into the fabled Machu Picchu and hear the history of one of the Seven Wonders of the World by their guide Rony It is believed that Machu Picchu was built in the mid-1400s as an estate for the greatest Incan emperor, Pachacutec and not discovered until the early 1900’s.

Tonight they celebrated the completion of their journey with a hot shower, a Pisco Sour, (traditional Peruvian drink) a team dinner and a good night’s rest before heading back to Cusco tomorrow to participate as volunteers in the Smile Network mission beginning on Saturday.



Final night on the mountain!

Day 3 Inca Trail
With the most difficult challenge of the trek behind them the trekkers settled into a natural rhythm on the trail. It was an early morning start with a gradual 2-kilometer hike up to ruins of Runkuracay, a small circular ruin occupying a commanding position of the Pacamayo valley below.

From Runkuracay, they hiked towards the mountain pass of Phuyupatamarca. The duration of the day they descended into a magnificent cloud forest full of orchids, hanging moss, tree ferns and flowers covering the terraced landscapes ending at the campsite of Winya Wayna.

Oddly, at this point in the trek many will start to say that the “descents are more challenging than the ascents. “ If you have bad knees you know how painful walking down stairs can be. Now imagine walking down 56,000 stairs over a few short days and you can start to put into perspective what some are feeling.

The evening ended with a traditional blessing ceremony under the stars. The trekkers, guides and porters convened10365564_10152362547028509_859967591735011210_o

Trekkers Reach Dead Woman’s Pass!

Two hours before the trekkers woke at dawn this morning, the guide company that will take them up the mountain was busy preparing breakfast. The entire group consists of 14 trekkers, 20 porters, 3 cooks and 2 guides.

The hard-working porters are from the countryside. They are simple farmers who supplement their income by working on the Inca Trail during the busy months. Their first language is Quechua, the official language of the Andes. Their work simply put, is back breaking.

After breakfast, the porters will break the tented-camp down, load and tie-on to their backs camping equipment, bedding, clothing, toiletries and a four-day supply of food and water for 32 people. As the trekkers set out on the trail, the porters will race by them to get to the second stop of the day where camp will be set-up and a warm lunch will be prepared from scratch over fires the porters have built. After everyone has been fed, they will break camp down one more time and run to the next campsite, erect tents, build fires and prepare dinner. It is physically strenuous exhausting work.

Today will be the toughest day of the climb. Depending on the fitness level of each trekker they will walk between 4 and 7 hours to reach Warmihuanusca, loosely translated “Dead Woman’s Pass,” which at 13,800 feet above sea level, this the highest elevation on the Classic Inca Trail.

The first to arrive at Dead Woman’s Pass will undoubtedly be the teenagers of the group and those most physically fit. Early arrivers will huddle to stay warm in the windy pass while they wait for the rear of the trek to join them. They will assemble for a group photo and then head down to Pacaymayu, at 12,000 feet in altitude where they will dine and sleep amongst the clouds tonight.



When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Some trips we take to reach a destination, others we take for the pleasure of the journey itself. Peru’s Inca Trail is perhaps the world’s greatest hike because it combines the best of both types of travel.

Early this morning, 14 adventurous souls from Minnesota departed from the Sacred Valley and headed to the trail head of famed Inca Trail. They will walk the 26 mile trail for four days to the destination of the spectacular lost city of Machu Picchu. Their four day journey winds through the snowcapped Andes Mountains and into the lush Amazon jungle and some of the world’s most dramatic and beautiful views in the world.

If the Inca Trail is on your bucket list you have to commit to the trek at least six months in advance. The Peruvian government strictly limits traffic on the trail to 500 persons per day, including the porters who must carry all food, tents and other necessities. Would-be hikers must sign up through an authorized guiding service, usually months in advance since spots sell out quickly.

For these Minnesotans, their plans and preparations started over 10 months ago when they committed to walking the trail to raise awareness and funds for children in Peru who suffer from the social trauma and stigma of debilitating birth defects. They are walking for children served by Smile Network International.

To date these amazing individuals ranging in age from 15 to mid 60’s have raised over $80,000! Today their trek will take them on many strenuous ups and downs and before they get to their campsite this evening they will have gained nearly a vertical mile in altitude by day’s end. Along the way they will be helped along by occasional chews of coca leaf, a mild stimulant endemic to the Andes. After a hearty dinner in the mess tent they will retreat to their tents under the star lit sky.

Camp site

Exploring the Sacred Valley

The Trekkers have been busy since they hit the ground in Peru!

The last two days have been spent exploring Cusco and getting acclimated to the 12,000 feet altitude visiting the ruins in the Sacred Valley.

Today they visited the Alpaca Farm and we hear Sue Hawkes was the “llama whisperer” with two llamas literally eating our of her hands!

Early tomorrow morning, they will start their journey on the Inca Trail! They will check in at the Government Checkpoint where the trailhead is at 7,000 feet. They will cross the raging Urubamba River on a rope bridge and trek for about six hours tomorrow before arriving at their first campsite at 8,500 feet.

The 14 trekkers are in excellent hands led by our wonderful Trail Guide, Rony, who will be taking them up the mountain along with three cooks and 20 porters carrying all the the supplies, including the food, tents, and everything they need for the 4-day trek!



Delta Airlines Send Off

The 14 trekkers arrived at the airport this morning ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

We were quite impressed with the packing skills of several of the trekkers who managed to pack for the trek and mission with only one bag and a carry on!

Before they boarded the plane, they received a special sendoff from our friends and partners at Delta Airlines! A heartfelt goodbye on the loud speaker at the gate from Captain Greg Cardis, Chief Pilot for Delta Airlines and Andy Zarras, Vice President for Delta Airlines brought tears and cheers from fellow travelers!

Watch the video here!~

Today will be a long travel day- with a layover in Atlanta and then the flight to Lima,, Peru where they will arrive after midnight. They will get a restful night of sleep in Lima before they fly to Cusco, Peru tomorrow morning!

Safe travels!