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WHU Smile Service Team: Smiling is never hard
Author:Li Jing  Date:2022-04-08  Clicks:

At the ward of a children’s hospital in Ganzi, Sichuan Province, October 2021, a few students of Wuhan University were playing games with a child who had finished his Cleft Lip and Palate (CLP) operation days earlier. Holding a teddy bear in hand, the kid struggled to articulate the sounds “Xie…xie…”, which means “thank you” in English. Though the sounds were not clear enough, just watching his little lips stretching and smiling freely, these students, the volunteers of the WHU Smile Service Team (WHUSST), were all immersed in great joy.

WHUSST volunteers and the kid with CLP in the “Protecting Smile” public benefit activity

CLP is one of the most common human congenital malformations. In China, one in every 600 babies is born with CLP. They may suffer from facial deformity and difficulties in articulation, as well as the inferiority feelings brought by both. Unfortunately, many children miss either the best treatment opportunity or important follow-up treatment due to the lack of information about serial treatment.

Concerned about this, WHUSST, founded in 2013 and aiming to provide targeted volunteer services for children with CLP, now has more than 600 volunteers and has helped more than 1,000 families. In the past nine years, they have endeavored to help children with CLP smile beautifully and carefreely. The happy smile on the aforementioned kid’s face is what WHUSST always long for.

Group photo of WHUSST

The story of WHUSST began when Sun Ao, a freshman from the School of Stomatology of Wuhan University, met a child with CLP in Sichuan in 2013. Due to the lack of scientific awareness of CLP, the kid’s family merely regarded it as a facial deformity and thus did not take medical treatment. Seeing the kid struggling to talk with incomplete lips, the family did nothing to help, Sun was overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, which inspired him to organize student volunteers to disseminate scientific knowledge as well as love for children with CLP.

Adhering to the objective of popularizing the knowledge of CLP, members of WHUSST published an original comic book called You are an Angel Kissed by God. Every vividly-drawn picture was trying to remove the grey and frightening veil of CLP for sick children. Every elaborately-written line is aimed at conveying the idea that “you are different from others, indeed, but that is because you are an angle that has been kissed by God.”

The comic book: You are an Angel Kissed by God

Every effort counts. Even though WHUSST had only recently been founded, the comic series produced by the organization was already recommended reading for families with CLP children by doctors on account of its perfect combination of science and fun. Moreover, it won the gold medal in the Third Youth Volunteer Service Project Competition of China in 2016. Recognition along with support from schools, universities, hospitals and enterprises made members of WHUSST smile with pride and satisfaction, and also gave them more strength to help children to smile regardless of CLP.

The gold medal of the Third Youth Volunteer Service Project Competition of China won in 2016

They thus began to devote themselves to another project. Contacting more and more children with CLP, they gradually found that these children would still suffer even after the operation was performed as they still had trouble articulating. Chen Jiaxian, the incumbent leader of WHUSST, said that “during my volunteer teaching in Sichuan, I met a 9-year-old child with CLP. I was already very sad about the fact that that girl couldn’t articulate the easiest pronunciation like “Yi”, and the indifferent attitude of her family just upset me more.” After this encounter, WHUSST started developing the articulation program, namely, the first domestic interactive CLP speech correction APP “Hi, Smile”. Focusing not only on the difficulty they had in performing the operation, but also on the speech disorders that children with CLP faced after their operation, WHUSST earned themselves the silver medal in the Fifth Youth Volunteer Service Public Welfare Entrepreneurship Competition of China in 2021.

WHUSST’s members at the Fifth Youth Volunteer Service Public Welfare Entrepreneurship Competition

For WHUSST, there is never a stop sign in their journey of caring for children with CLP. Besides the facial deformity and the speech disorder, they also paid attention to the psychological pressure the children and their families were having. “I knew one kid in Wuhan,” Chen recalled, “he refused violently to go to school after the surgery, because he was still afraid of classmates making fun of him. With all the efforts we’ve made, it is still hard to imagine how much pressure they are under.” Therefore, they offered professional psychological counseling services for the families and children, and organized a series of psychological rehabilitation summer camps to bring gifts and laughter to the ward through various interesting games. In 2020, Professor Zhang Wenjuan from the School of Philosophy at Wuhan University also joined them to provide more comprehensive psychological analysis and guidance. “You can’t smile freely if you are afraid of smiling—that’s where we are trying to help them,” Chen said.

The psychological rehabilitation camp in 2019

Now, WHUSST not only holds regular activities offline, but also runs online events through their own platforms including a WeChat official account, Weibo, Bilibili and so on. During the pandemic, the team organized an online summer camp that attracted more than 160 families. By building an active online communication circle with multiple participation by patients, doctors, speech therapists, psychological workers and volunteers, they have expanded the influence of the service team, getting unexpected results compared to offline activities. “The pandemic in 2020 was really our window of opportunity, and yet we still have a lot of work to do,” Chen said modestly.

WHUSST’s video works published on Bilibili

When asked what words left her with the deepest impression during the volunteering work in WHUSST, Chen replied with, “My dream is to articulate my dream,” which was used as a slogan in their publicity video. Every child born with CLP must have dreamt of speaking and smiling just like other children, and members of WHUSST always perceive this dream as their mission, for which they keep making efforts and taking challenges.

Group photo of WHUSST’s volunteers and staff of Children’s Hospital of Wuhan

For the past nine years, every step has echoed; in the future journey, more hope will be kindled. On the campus of Wuhan University, there will always be a group of students smiling at children, saying, “Let us help you. Smiling is never hard.”

Photo by WHU Smile Service Team

Edited by Zheng Zicheng, Qin Zehao, Yin Xiaoxue, Zou Xiaohan, Sylvia and Xi Bingqing


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