Smiles Abound in Bolivia

A Samaritan’s Purse team of medical and ministry personnel brought physical and spiritual healing to many in La Paz.

The Samaritan’s Purse Cleft Lip and Palate Project expanded from South Sudan into Bolivia in late October, performing 29 free-of-charge surgeries on patients from just a few months old to 45 years of age.

A 13-member medical team from the United States and Canada spent October 25-31 in La Paz, Bolivia, providing screening and operations at El Centro de Rehabilitación del Quemado (CEREQUEM). In addition, a local ministry team provided translation and spiritual counsel to patients and parents. Eleven individuals received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior during the week.

Click here to read more stories of how Samaritan’s Purse brought new smiles to Bolivianos

Edson, 27, and his mother Modesta were two of them. Edson, who had a cleft lip revision, is in his final year of technical school, studying to be an electrician. He grew up being made fun of by other children—“It was hard to be different from everyone else.”

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Edson and his mother Modesta received the Lord Jesus Christ during our Cleft Lip and Palate Project campaign in La Paz, Bolivia. They were given Bibles and Christian literature in Spanish.

Though classmates are kinder now, his pre-revision cleft lip was still an issue. He felt it might have been holding him back from better opportunities. “It’s still something I struggle with every day,” he said. “It feels like a little bit of an obstacle.”

In addition to Edson’s successful lip operation—performed by human hands—God did surgery on his heart by replacing a heart of stone with a new heart of flesh (see Ezekiel 36:26). As he talked with our ministry team before his surgery, he was convicted of his need to receive Christ.

“I’ve always trusted in God but today they showed me the right way I should go and how to grab hold of the Bible,” he said.

Our staff gave the young man and his mother new Bibles in Spanish along with other Christian literature. Edson made a quick post-op recovery, and our staff saw him diligently digging into the Word.

He later texted one of our staff the following message (translated from Spanish to English): “Thank you, thank you very much for making possible this gift of a new smile for us. May God always take care of you and bless you all. Thank you to all the doctors and the whole team for this incredible campaign.”

By God’s Grace, a Fantastic Week 
Our medical team was uncertain how the weeklong campaign would play out, considering it was our first trip to Bolivia and the fact that the surgical cases were often quite different from our previous work in South Sudan. Nonetheless, by week’s end, everyone saw that God had once again provided.

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“I like how it looks. I feel like a different person,” 45-year-old Matilde said after her cleft lip repair. She was our first patient ever in Bolivia. After more than four decades of stigma—at one point, her community absurdly accused her of being a witch—she begins a new journey. (Note: In the “after” photo her face was swollen, and it was still painful for her to smile, but those routine post-operation issues quickly disappear.)

“It’s been a fantastic week. There were so many things that were unknowns, we really went in faith,” said Karen Daniels, a registered nurse who leads the cleft lip and palate surgical teams for Samaritan’s Purse. “God has just been really gracious to us. It’s been exciting to watch it. 

“The surgeries we’ve been doing have been quite different [from South Sudan]. There’s been a lot more revisions, a lot more palates cases, a lot more complex surgeries.”

Since 2011, our teams have performed 340 cleft surgeries in South Sudan, all but two of which were first-time lip cases and revisions. The results are often dramatic and make a huge difference is societal standing. A repaired lip in South Sudan erases the stigma of being considered a curse and opens up better opportunities for employment, education, and marriage. The surgeries are mostly cosmetic, though, and the patients may still struggle with great difficulties in speech and swallowing.

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A 13-member Samaritan’s Purse medical team performed 29 surgeries in Bolivia in late October. 

A number of the surgeries performed in Bolivia were palate repairs and related fistula closures, which are more difficult and time-consuming operations. (In this case, a fistula refers to a hole that has opened between the mouth and nose.) Though the aesthetic change is not as dramatic as a first-time lip repair, the palate/fistula work is functionally more significant. Big improvements in eating/drinking and in language—alongside appropriate therapy—will follow. 

“The palate has everything to do with speech and the ability to eat,” said surgeon Tom Boeve, a veteran of Samaritan’s Purse work in South Sudan who also traveled to Bolivia. “If [a patient] has a fistula, he’s miserable, because every time he eats and drinks something comes up his nose. It makes him a social outcast from that perspective, and it’s miserable for him. So, to fix it and get it to work fairly well, then he can begin to develop better speech. [He’ll be] better able to eat and drink—function in society very well.”

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Dr. Tom Boeve, one of two surgeons who traveled to Bolivia with our team in late October, examines little Ana as her mother Sandusa watches. 

Two-year-old Ana was among those who had a fistula closed during our Bolivia campaign.

“I have to clean her face every second,” said her mother, Sandusa, before the operation. Because of the gap from the roof of Ana’s mouth to her nasal cavity, liquids would leak through her nose while drinking—a daily, painful experience that is now remedied post-surgery.

Sandusa, 38, understands her daughter’s pain as she too had a cleft lip, which was repaired at age 13. When little Ana was born, Sandusa, a Christian believer, said she told the Lord, “You blessed me, but what about my daughter?”

The Samaritan’s Purse medical team was glad to be a part of God’s healing answer to that question while in Bolivia.

“It’s a huge joy that you have come so far to bless the children of Bolivia,” Pastor David Archondo told one of our surgeons. Pastor David served on our ministry team in La Paz and was himself born with a complicated cleft lip and palate.

More to Be Done
There’s plenty of work remaining to be done in Bolivia. Amalia brought her fourth child, six-month-old daughter Ashly, to La Paz for her first cleft surgery. Our medical team repaired her bilateral cleft lip, but her cleft palate will require another surgery later.

Amalia was scared when Ashly was born and thought about abandoning her. Her husband steadied her, encouraging her with the assurance that they would find a way to get the surgery their little one needed. That opportunity finally came thanks to Samaritan’s Purse.

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Little Ashly smiles before her surgery.

When Amalia’s husband dropped off her and Ashly at the clinic, he was crying.

“I believe they were tears of joy,” Amalia said. In the past, hospitals would tell them to wait—Ashly was not ready. “He could not believe this was her time.”

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Amalia was very pleased with the results of Ashly’s surgery, but knows more work lies ahead.

Before Ashly’s surgery, Amalia said: “It would have been a great mistake to abandon her. I’m going to fight for her, whatever it takes for her to be a normal person.”

Post-surgery, Amalia was pleased and excited, “Even right now I can see the difference—how she looks like another baby.”

But the 30-year-old mother of four knows the journey is not over.

“I want you to come again,” she said. “Please come back soon. I feel relieved, but I know I have some way to go. I will keep fighting until she [Ashly] gets everything repaired. Then I will be totally happy.”

Next year Samaritan’s Purse plans to return to South Sudan and Bolivia to perform more cleft lip and palate surgeries. Please continue to pray for the physical and spiritual health of our patients. Pray also for our staff and medical volunteers as they arrange the challenging logistics surrounding this project.

Ways you can help


There's no medicine more powerful than prayer. Ask God to work through our doctors and nurses to transform lives and win souls for His kingdom, using Samaritan's Purse as His hands and feet.


Provide help and hope to people who have suffered physically and spiritually because of cleft lips or palates, or other medical problems. Your donation can ensure more people receive life-changing surgery and learn about the Giver of all good gifts - Jesus Christ. Donate Here