Spreading Christmas Miracles From Mayfair to the World and Back Again
For the second straight year, Smile Train UK’s beloved annual Christmas Carol Concert at The Grosvenor Chapel had to go virtual, and for the second straight year, Smile Train UK’s staff took the challenge as an opportunity to open the historic chapel’s doors wider than ever to share the joyous event with the world.
Our world tour began in Mayfair with the Choir of The Grosvenor Chapel’s classic rendition of “Once in Royal David’s City”. As their final notes still hovered, Grosvenor’s Priest-in-Charge, The Reverend Dr Richard Fermer offered a meditation on the proverb “Use your smile to change the world, but don’t let the world change your smile” and a prayer.
“We’ve come here today to celebrate and give thanks that you have used your smile — [by which] I mean your generosity — to change the world for children across many different countries and continents who haven’t been able to smile fully, and thereby giving them access to a universal language of love and compassion.”
Imagine spending your whole life trying to speak and never being understood. What it would do to your self-confidence, your experience in school, your ability to find love and a career? For so many people with a cleft, this is no hypothetical; this is their life. Even after surgery, children with clefts usually need years of speech therapy to avoid lifelong issues. Smile Train believes every person with a cleft deserves to express themselves with confidence, clarity, and pride, which is why we sponsor free comprehensive speech therapy at partner centres across the world. A few take this still further. Not content to merely help patients talk, they’ve organised choirs where children who were once too embarrassed to speak are emboldened to stand before the world and sing in harmony.
Last year, virtual performances from Smile Train Choirs in Columbia, Chile, and Brazil were perhaps the highlight of the concert. This year, we were blessed to add new choirs from Argentina and Nigeria to the group.
The first Smile Train Choir performance of 2021 came from Fundación Gantz in Santiago, who performed the patriotic anthem “Chile Lindo”.
We were then whisked back to the Chapel for The Grosvenor Choir’s rendition of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” before travelling south to Nigeria to hear the new Sing and Smile Club perform “I Want to Wish You a Merry Christmas”.
From Lagos we returned to London for “Ding Dong! Merrily on High”, followed by a personal word from long-time Smile Train UK Ambassador Nathan Abbott. Nathan was born with a cleft and needed more than 30 surgeries and 10 years of orthodontic care to achieve his current smile. He knows that while he is fortunate to have the NHS, even the most basic care would be out of reach for so many other babies born with clefts around the world if not for Smile Train. That’s why, for the past eight years, he has paid his privilege forward by combining his passion for giving back with his passion for sport to raise just under £50,000 for smiles — an effort so outstanding that he was recognised with a Pride of Britain Award in 2018.
Next, we spirited away to Manaus, Brazil where Coral Smile Train from our partner Instituto Yaçuri da Amazônia dazzled us with the Portuguese standard “O Natal é Tempo de Amar”.
We then met Smile Train UK Ambassador Jen Cross and her son, Will, who were both born with clefts. Always driven to give back to the cleft community and ease stigma, Jen now runs Don’t Get Lippy, a website where people can find cleft lip and palate gifts, resources, and support.
The Grosvenor Choir next led a rousing “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” before we found ourselves standing amidst the breath-taking vineyards and mountains of Mendoza, Argentina. There, Coro Hospital Pediátrico Humberto J. Notti performed “Aprender a Volar”.
From Mendoza, we hopped far, far northwest to Manila for an update from Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano, Smile Train’s Area Director for Southeast Asia, on how her region is handling the pandemic. During months-long COVID shutdowns, Smile Train helped partners in the Philippines use technology to stay in touch with their patients. Her team set up free virtual discussions with experts to help families with breastfeeding, speech therapy, nutrition, psychosocial, and orthodontic needs. She also organised sessions just to answer parents’ questions on how they could prepare their children for surgery once it was again possible. These innovations have led to such dramatic improvements in patients that many will remain in use post-pandemic.
“This is what is great about Smile Train’s model,” she said. “Since we work with local medical professionals, we are able to support comprehensive cleft care as soon as local regulations allow it…. I know that our local partners need your support now more than ever to resupply, to rebuild, and to continue to save lives.”
We were next treated to four Spanish carols: three from the children of Coro Fundación FISULAB in Bogotá, Colombia — “Arbolito de Navidad”, “Llegó la Navidad”, and “Tres Coplas” — followed by The Grosvenor Choir’s stirring performance of “Ríu Ríu Chíu”.
Smile Train UK Ambassador Matilda Landsdown now took centre stage. Born with a cleft, she followed a regimen of surgeries from the ages of eight weeks through 21 years. She now embraces her cleft as a make-up artist and runs the Instagram account @BarbieInTheCity___, through which she shares her insights and make-up skills to inspire smiles and confidence in others with clefts.
“I love being a Smile Train Ambassador because I can be the person I needed when I was growing up; someone who knows there’s life beyond the cleft,” she said.
Then it was back to Brazil, this time Rio de Janeiro, to enjoy Coral Beija Flor’s wonderful recital of “Glória à Deus Nas Altura”.
The Grosvenor Choir stepped in to remind us that it is still very much winter in the UK with “In the Bleak Midwinter”, before it was back to sunny Colombia, where Coro Fábrica de Sonrisas, CRILAP in Barranquilla warmed our spirits with “Más Allá”.
Our Christmas world tour then ended back where it started, in Mayfair, with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
At the close of another year marked by pandemic and lockdown, what better way to celebrate the season of hope than by using the miracles of modern technology to welcome such miraculous voices from around the world into our living rooms, that we may be inspired once again to give the miracle of a smile — and a song — back to ever more of those in need?