A Day of Exploring


We total Ten. Nine outgoing and fast-talking women, and one brave man.

We range in age from 47 to 66.

We come from Minnesota, Wyoming, Washington and South Carolina.

Within the first 24 hours of our arrival into Europe we lost one passport, a brand new Iphone 10, one suitcase, and a pair of sunglasses, but no one lost their humor. Not even Chanah when she tore ligaments in her knee. But don’t worry, she went to the hospital and has been fitted with a brace and she is still walking the Camino.

By the way, all lost items found their way back to their owners because of the kindness of many Spaniards.

Our first day was off to a relaxing start to get acclimated to the time zone and indulge in the local culinary specialties like Padron Peppers, Alborino wine, mussels, clams, the local cheeses and custard tart pastries. We all plan to lose a few pounds as we walk the last 100 kilometers of the Camino, however, our weight loss regime did not get off to a good start.

We start the Camino this morning on the Portuguese route in the town of Valencia, Portugal. We will walk 22 kilometers to O Porrino Spain.

Stay tune for stories and photos!

Trekking Onward

Yesterday the trekkers accessed the famed Inca trail under sunny skies and a light breeze, the perfect weather conditions for trekking in the Andes. The four-day forecast called for sunshine and more importantly, no rain. All were emotional and apprehensive as they set out. The started the trek at 7,000 feet and trekked eight miles on gently rolling hills and a path that ran parallel to the Urubamba River.

Today they rose at 6 am to get an early start before the heat of the day set in as they climb to Dead Woman’s Pass at 14,000 feet. As they set out the temperatures were just above freezing and will reach the high sixties or low seventies by midday.

Today each of them will find out what they are made of. It is the toughest day of the four days on the mountain. The ascent is steep and the winds that blow through the mountain pass increase the trek’s difficulty. It is almost 7 pm in Peru as I write this post for the blog. I have an agreement with their trek guide that he will only contact me if there is a problem and since I have not heard from him I can safely assume that all of the trekkers cleared the pass and are having dinner in the mass tent now sharing their stories from the day.

I am sharing some of their photographs from earlier in the week. The group acclimated to the elevation in Peru with trial treks and a little shopping. I can confidently tell you that they had an impact on the Peruvian GNP. This is important because the women they have purchased goods from are economically disadvantaged and we know that when you economically empower these women they spend their money on food and education for their children and that’s good for everyone.

More to come.

The Journey Begins

Great accomplishments generally have their roots in humble beginnings. Today nine adventurous individuals from Minnesota and South Dakota started their trek on the Inca Trail.
It is estimated that the 26-mile trek through the Andes is made up of over 82,000 steps and 55,000 stairs. They are hiking to create awareness for the plight of children born with facial deformities and raise money and awareness for Smile Network. You should know a couple of things about these amazing people. They have trained hard for the last few months to prepare for this climb that will take them to 14,000 feet. They are supported by donors who have contributed more than $30,000 to support their efforts to provide children who are on a waiting list for life-altering surgeries provided by Smile Network. These surgeries are free of charge and the recipients are some of the poorest children in the world. One hundred percent of the donations received go directly to a child’s surgery. The trekkers are paying all of their own travel expenses associated with this trip.

They range in age from nineteen to fifty-nine. Their efforts to summit Dead Woman’s Pass and proceed on foot to Machu Picchu are supported by 16 porters, two cooks, and three guides. They will camp for three nights on the side of a mountain prior to walking into the famed Gate of the Sun.

Follow Hillary Kiefer, Rachael White, Carla Warner, Olivia Ryan, Donna Ruekert, Denise Kraemer, Stacy Hinkemeyer, Laurie Giacoletto and Russell Grismer as they make their way on the trail.

Uziel, “Lady Killer”

Guest blog post by Scott Behmer, Smile Network trekker and volunteer

Uziel’s parents are a bit of an unlikely couple, but their shared love for their son was clear. Dads weren’t scarce on registration day, but were far out numbered by moms, aunts and grandmothers. I enjoyed watching Uziel lay in his dad’s arms, looking cozy in a baby blue argyle sweater vest. He got his great head of hair from his dad, and I made sure all of the volunteers noticed Uziel’s long eyelashes, too. Lady killer.

I learned that Uziel had both a cleft lip and palate, but only one would be treated in surgery. In the future his palate could be addressed, but not on this mission.

On Monday morning at 8am I found Uziel and his mom in the ward where they had spent the night. Only one parent was allowed on the floor so dad would have to make the long wait outside. His mom was stressed, tired and concerned, not quite understanding how the day would go. I used the Google Translation app to answer questions as best I could. I tried to explain that although I was wearing scrubs, I was not a doctor, but a volunteer who helped raise funds for Uziel’s surgery. Mom offered a kind smile and, “Gracias.” Thanks wasn’t necessary.

To pass the time and give her a break, I scooped up her son in my arms and sang songs to him. “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves is a personal favorite of mine and he seemed to dig it, too. Finally the O.R. was ready and Mom cried likely from a mix of anxiety and exhaustion. No one could blame her. We hugged and I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t going to let Uziel out of my sight, but words failed and I choked up a bit. I was committed to seeing him through this.

Dr. Andy allowed us to watch throughout the 40 min surgery. Music filled the air as he beautifully re-sculpted skin and muscle. Just has he pulled the stitches tight to join Uziel’s lip Dr. Andy began to sing a classic by the band America, “Magic. You can have anything that you desire.” I got so caught up that I sang along. Had Uziel been awake, I think he would have liked it. It was truly a blessed moment.

At only 6 months, Uziel is too young to realize he was born with a birth defect and in developing countries a cleft is sometimes considered a curse. One look into his eyes and no one would ever think Uziel was anything but special. His is a life that will now be brighter thanks to the efforts of Smile Network International and teams of volunteers from across the world. Perhaps one day when he asks about his scar he’ll hear stories about kind people who just wanted to help him be the best he can be.

-Scott Behmer



Callie & Cesia

Guest blog post by Callie Egland, Smile Network volunteer & trekker

This is Cesia! The happiest little baby! She did not have the familiar “cleft lip” but instead a cleft palate – where the roof of her mouth opens directly to her nasal cavity. Without surgery, her speech would be 80% unintelligible. Imagine going through school and trying to create relationships without people being able to understand you! Yesterday, she received surgery fixing her palate via the Smile Network and this morning she is eating jello and giggling – unbeknownst to her that her life has been changed for the better in a big, big way. Her dad thanked me with tears in his eyes as he held my hand and that was the big moment for me in this journey. I hope I can adequately relay this big message to all the donors that made this possible for Cesia – and what a happy Papa we gave her as well. The video is of her dad keeping her happy minutes before her surgery that gave her a voice.💕

– Callie Egland

Posted by Callie Egland on Tuesday, June 27, 2017



Guest blog post by Scott Behmer, Smile Network volunteer & trekker

Naomi and her mom stayed overnight in the hospital and were there when I arrived around 7:30am. Quiet as before, her mom offered a simple smile and I could tell she was tired and hungry, but she held and rocked her baby for about 4 hours without complaint. Without really asking, I took Naomi from her arms to give her a break but mom stayed close. Baby was scheduled in spot 4 for the day but the schedule was reshuffled a bit so Naomi went in for surgery around 1pm. She didn’t cry or fuss one bit. Her beautiful eyes just surveyed the room and observed us admiring her.

Dr. Wood is a talented artist and Naomi’s cleft lip was repaired in 37 min (and $500 in supplies). I watched as he prepared the end stage with sutures and in one skillful pull, the opening in her lip was gathered together as simply as closing a book. Magical. She will no longer have this obstacle in her life. She is on her way to something better.

What a wonderful way to commemorate Pride weekend. As my friends and others are celebrating love, hope and acceptance in Minneapolis and in other cities across the country, I can’t help but draw connections to the experience I’m having here in Lima. Naomi will now have a better chance to love herself and be loved by others, her mom will have renewed hope that Naomi may lead a healthier life and this beautiful little girl will more likely be accepted by her community — all due to Smile Network and donations from generous souls. Today was a good day and I’m very proud to have been a part of Naomi’s journey. She won’t remember me but I won’t forget her.

-Scott Behmer

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Great accomplishments generally have their roots in humble beginnings.  Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

It is estimated that the 26-mile trek through the Andes, commonly known as the Inca trail, is made up of over 82,000 steps and 55,000 stairs.

17 adventurous souls from Minnesota and Wisconsin completed their journey to the famed Incan empire ruins of Machu Picchu this week.  They ranged in age from 14 to 60.  They described their experience in various ways:
“Humbling.”  “The most difficult thing I have ever done.”  “There are no words to adequately describe the sentiments in my heart at this moment.”  “The most beautiful vistas I have ever seen.”

Each one arrived into the gate of the sun weary, a few arrived with tears rolling down their cheeks, but all arrived with the knowledge that they had just completed one of the most mentally and physically challenging endeavors of their life.

They did this on behalf of children in Peru who will benefit from their fundraising efforts in the next few days.  30-35 children will receive the gift of a life altering surgery free of charge because of the efforts of these 17 individuals and the donors who supported them.

Thank you to all that have made this work possible.
In the next few days we will be posting the images of the children whose lives have been changed because of someone like you.

The Climb

Dead women’s pass is not for the faint of heart. By days end each trekker will know what they are made of. They will ascend to this infamous pass high in the Andes and summit about 3pm.

They will climb over 3,600 vertical feet to an elevation to nearly 14,000 feet to the summit. Before leaving the camp they banned each other whining on the trail today but gave themselves permission to cry and cuss.

Having done the Inca trail 11 years ago, I would say that climbing to dead women’s pass is analogous to childbirth. In the midst of it, you are asking yourself, “what did I get myself into?” When it’s over and you are feeling immensely triumphant and proud of your accomplishment you say to yourself, “I think I can do this again someday!” Under the stars of the southern sky this evening they will know that the trails highest pass yields the greatest rewards.

By Kim Valentini- Founder Smile Network

Trekker, Scott Behmer taking in all the glory of the beautiful Andes Mountains.

Off they go

They are 49 in all. 28 porters, 17 Trekker’s, 3 guides and 1 cook. They are carrying more than 1,300 pounds of gear and provisions for their four day trip through the Andes at elevations ranging from 7,000 to 14,000 feet.

In their load the porters are carrying 24 dozen eggs, 50 fresh caught trout, 45 pounds of potatoes and equal amount of carrots, syrup and flour for tomorrow’s breakfast of pancakes, 8 tents for sleeping and one large mess tent with 20 chairs to feed two rounds of hungry climbers. The porter’s job is to make the ascent as painless as possible for the trekkers so the porters will do the heavy lifting for the team they are supporting. The trekkers only job is to stay focused and get to the finish line of the famed Machu Pichu.

The trekkers set out at 10 am this morning and will arrive into camp tonight around 6pm to a fully set up camp and prepared three-course dinner. They will retire early to get in a full night’s rest before trekking to the summit of dead woman’s pass at just over 13,500 feet tomorrow.

They are hiking for a common purpose: To raise awareness and funds for life altering surgeries provided by Smile Network free of charge to impoverished children in Peru.

We are certain the Incan gods of the Andes will watch over and protect this amazing group of committed adventurous souls as they make their way along the routes created hundreds of years ago by the Incan civilization.

We will remain in radio contact with the group and keep you posted on their journey.