Just Leave Him to Die

Bolivia sign

Have you ever considered volunteering on a mission project that utilizes your unique skill set?  Kris did!  Listen to her insights into this special experience during this “giving” time of year.  (I would recommend heading to the Samaritan website–link at end of post–for a look at all of the photos.)

“Just leave him to die”, “She’s a curse to our family”, “What did we do to deserve this?”  These were some of the things that parents had heard when they presented their newborns with cleft palate and cleft lip to their families and communities.  Sometimes the father rejected the child, other times the mother, and sometimes it was extended families and communities who shunned the child and the parents.   But if just one person in that child’s life believes, miracles can happen.

We witnessed single mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings and friends bringing their loved ones to our clinic in La Paz for the hope that the longed for surgery might become a reality. They came in buses, on foot or any other way they could to wait for that chance.  Many came from hours or days away.

bolivia map

Our small team of 12 arrived in Bolivia on a Saturday and the following Sunday we screened around 50 people, ages 4 months to 42 years old.  I had been invited by Samaritan’s Purse to join this cleft palate team for its first mission in Bolivia.  While this experience was my first with a cleft palate team, I had worked extensively with Samaritan’s Purse in the last 15 years or so doing relief and development in Central America.  When this opportunity came up, I couldn’t say “YES!” fast enough.

Over the course of the week the team performed 29 lip and palate surgeries, as time and resources permitted.  We focused on serving those that we could help the most in the short time we would be there.

We were continually amazed that these parents could trust us with their children and that the adults would trust us to do what we promised:  give them a more normal look, help them eat and drink without nasal regurgitation, improve their speech and swallowing.  I cried many tears of joy as I watched parents receive their children back in their arms with new lips, new lives and a new found confirmation of the dignity and worth of that child.  The adult patients were crying along with us as we rejoiced at their new reflection in the mirror and confidence that they were just as worthy as anybody else of a good job, a wonderful spouse and an education;  things previously denied to them.

Another benefit was the team of Bolivian professionals: doctors, nurses, a dentist, an SLP and a child psychologist all working seamlessly together, learning from one another and collaborating to make the outreach a complete service to the patient and the family.

The SLP indicated that she and the FOUR others in the entire country had a hard time getting materials and tests in Spanish.  I promised I would make it my business to get her some materials if we were asked back, and we were!  So now I’m on a mission to procure donations of Spanish tests and materials to leave with them on our next trip.

To see more details and pictures of the outreach visit:

To donate to Bolivian SLP’s contact Kristen Torres:

[email protected]

Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat!



This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Annie Doyle

    I am always in awe of those who give of themselves so freely. I’ve been impressed by those SLPs that put their faith at the forefront of what they do! Great post and I will be sure to donate.

    1. Catherine Crowley

      I have worked in Bolivia for the past 10 years on 10 different trips. It is such a great country with great people. I have posted a number of cleft palate materials in Spanish (with English subtitles) including cleft palate speech therapy practice books and video tutorials for SLPs and professionals on how to provide quality services to patients with repaired cleft palate and with feeding issues. Here is the link. http://www.leadersproject.org/cleft-palate-directory/

      Keep up the good work.

      1. admin

        A million thanks to you for all you do and have done! Merry Christmas! Kim

      2. kris

        Thank you so much Catherine, that is indeed a GREAT website. I’m going to take some time now that the holidays are over to scour it! Thank you, Kim for helping me get the word out about this program!

  2. Aisha

    I am curious to know what your responsibilities were in the team. Did you need special training? Etc. Thanks for sharing. This is something I would like to partake in.

    1. kris

      My responsibilities were to screen the potential patients and give the team my opinion about how the speech would benefit or not benefit from surgery. After that, I took time while the patient was in surgery to talk with the families, answer questions, counsel/advise on the course of speech treatment (if any) after they have healed, normal speech/lang. development and to answer questions. When I’m stateside I stay in touch with the SLP’s we worked with down there and a few of the pt’s. that have internet access. I’m currently coordinating any and all donations for spanish materials, in particular tests to bring on the 2016 trip.

  3. Box Hill

    Such heartbreaking things to hear being said about an unpreventable issue. You do an amazing job and keep up the inspiring work

Comments are closed.


The views expressed in this blog are my own and are intended to inspire other speech-language pathologists in their own practice. If you are a parent, teacher or other educator, these ideas are not intended to take the place of treatment by a certified clinician. Read full disclaimer here.