928 New Smiling Faces

By John Warren

How important is a child’s smile? What if a child can’t hear or speak properly? Would you like to help a dozens of children who cannot smile, hear or speak? It’s so easy. You can help take an IFC Home Tour and have a good time while doing good.

Kids with cleft palates and cleft lips have a tough time, unless they can get surgery to correct the problem. They can develop middle ear infections, which may eventually lead to hearing loss, and, because hearing is related to learning to speak, it may compromise that ability too. If that’s not bad enough and the cleft is not treated the child will face severe impact on their self-esteem, social skills and behavior as they grow into teenagers.

If the child and their family live in Canada or the USA help is usually available from clinics, children’s hospitals and support groups and the cleft can be fixed. But if your family is poor and living in Mexico the chances of being able to obtain and to pay for the restorative surgery are slim to none. That used to be the case along Banderas Bay but thirty years ago someone had a bright idea and created hundreds of smiling faces.

In 1986 Celia and Ron Walker, who were residents of Puerto Vallarta, learned that a friend’s baby had been born with a cleft palate, knew she needed surgery and went searching for a surgeon – and found him, eventually, in Guadalajara. Soon there was another child who needed the same help and they went back to that surgeon in Guadalajara. Eventually, they had more children to help than they could transport. Ron then thought to ask the surgeon to come to PV and perform the surgeries here. He agreed and thirty years later the Cleft Palate Program is still the flagship program of the International Friendship Club (IFC) and provides free medical care to those kids who need it.

Three or four times a year a team of surgeons and nurses flies from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta, assess the patients they have treated before and decide what help the new ones need. The next day they move into the CMQ operating theatres and perform the surgeries required. In a tremendous show of compassion the surgeons and nurses donate their time and CMQ donates its operating theatres. However, the costs of the flights from and to Guadalajara, the meals and accommodation for the surgical team and the medical supplies that are used, plus ongoing care with a dental specialist, is paid for by IFC. The results of all this effort and generosity are amazing. Between 1991 and 2014 our dedicated medical team held 3,125 medical exams and performed 928 surgeries.

Back in 1986 the Walkers needed a way to raise the money to pay the surgical team’s expenses and they decided to ask some friends to open their homes to the public for a fee that would be used to do so. At the same time they established the International Friendship Club (IFC) to run the Home Tours and the club has been doing it ever since.
Access to the homes is made available by the incredible generosity of the home owners who know that the “small” sacrifice on their part of opening their home for viewing occasionally can have a huge impact on the lives of local children with cleft palates. Because of the help from the dedicated medical team, the homeowners, the patrons on the buses and the IFC volunteers 928 kids now smile with confidence.

The tours run on Tuesday and Wednesday, this week and next. (There are only four more opportunities left.) Air-conditioned, docent-guided buses leave the Sea Monkey Restaurant at 10:30 and take you to four beautiful homes in town and as far south as Mismaloya. You’ll be back at the Sea Monkey by 1:00ish. Tickets (Cost of $500 pesos) are limited and its best to book a day or two before at our office (Corner of Insurgentes and Libertad, above HSBC bank) or online at www.toursforvallarta.com. All profits of the IFC are used to support the medical and educational needs in this area.

Hot off the press! IFC has added a Thursday night presentation on the 10th at 7:00pm at the clubhouse. Matt Long, owner of a company in Seattle called Husky Home Care, is interested in opening a Home Care agency here in PV and would like your input. He foresees the cost to be approximately 1/4 of that in the U.S. Everyone is welcome.

John Warren on Email
John Warren
John Warren is in charge of Publicity for the International Friendship Club (IFC). His articles describe the programs and charities that IFC supports, the sources of income of IFC and the social experiences, lectures and classes that members can enjoy.
He splits his time between Puerto Vallarta and Lethbridge, Alberta. In the winter months he writes for the IFC, this summer he’s focusing his writing on the environment.