One is likely to associate the name "Belo" with beauty, thanks to the medical clinic's celebrity endorsers who are living proof of how technological advancements can help one achieve a smoother complexion or a slimmer body. It may be astounding to see the results of science on these famous people, but none of these are as compelling as the transformations of the nameless, faceless kids under the Belo Smiles project.
Every year, around 4,500 Filipino kids are born with a cleft lip and palate, one of the highest in Asia. With their expertise, the Belo Medical group hopes to help the best way it can. "When we first met the kids they were very sad. We brought food, we had mascots, but they weren't really smiling. Parang walang life. But now you see that their smiles are so bright," Dr. Vicki Belo recalls — and it's true.
Kristine Aira Javelona, now 6, was only 2 months old when her mom Ruby found out about the Belo Medical Group's medical mission in 2011. "Nung maliit sya, meron syang cleft lip. Nagkaroon ng free mission sa isang clinic sa amin sa Taguig. Nung nakita nila si Aira, sabi sa akin, bakit hindi namin ilapit kay Dr. Belo. Tinulungan nila kaming makatawag sa office ni Dr. Belo.
Kristine then and now
"Pina-medical sya, pinataba para nasa tamang timbang sya. Pagkatapos nyang matingnan, siguro ilang days lang yun, may tumawag ulit. Sabi nila, okay yung lahat ng medical. So go na kaagad sya sa operation. Free lahat yung check up, hatid-sundo pa kami nung sasakyan, pati pagkain. Napaka-approachable nila, ultimo lahat ng empleyado nila. Kaya thankful talaga kami," Ruby says.
Mommy Nerissa, whose son Rodgie Quillo was born with a cleft lip and palate, found the answer to her prayers through social media. "Noong October 2016, nakita ko sa Facebook yung Operation Smile. Sa ibang bansa ko nga po na-send yung picture nya, tapos ni-refer na lang ako dito sa Operation Smile Philippines. Dinala ko po si Rodgie sa Sta. Ana Hospital, then sabi doon, may [medical] mission daw po yung Belo. Tinawagan po nila kami pagdating ng June, then dire-diretso operation na po yun.
Rodgie then and now
The Quillos are now preparing Rodgie for the next phase. "May isa pa pong operation, yung para sa palate nya, so inaantay na lang po namin yung schedule."
Asked what motivated her to pursue this advocacy, Dr. Vicki replied, "My dad always taught me that we have to give back because we've been blessed. I was bullied as a kid, so this is very close to my heart. I know how much it hurts and it affects you for the rest of your life.
"I thought the kids should get [the operation] early para less bullying in school, but then I was talking to Cyhljohn (another patient), and he was telling me he was being bullied by his neighbors. And he's not even in school yet. I feel like I'm so blessed, I have to help all these children who are not as blessed."
And how are they teaching their little one, their adorable daughter Scarlet Snow, these lessons? "I think you should do it by modeling. Basically she sees me, she sees her dad involved. She's friends with all the help in the house. That's the way I grew up. And when our yaya brings her kids, we let her play with them.
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"We also invited the Belo Smiles kids to Scarlet's birthday, and I was afraid that because she's only 3, Scarlet might not understand. But she held their hands, she took a picture with them. It's a nice start," the mom of three, who will soon become a grandmother courtesy of daughter Cristalle Belo-Pitt, said.
The Belo Medical Group has helped more than 150 kids since it started in 2011. It plans to continue the project and reach rural areas in the future with the help of Operation Smiles, and hopes to make it known through the Belo Smiles exhibit which will run from March 23-25 at SM Mall of Asia, April 6-8 at SM Aura Premier, and April 27-29 at SM North EDSA.
Says Cristalle, “We encourage organizations, volunteers, and other advocates to support this cause, which is why we will be running this exhibit on different locations. We want to spread awareness on this cause. We would like the families of children with cleft lip and cleft palate to know that there is help available for them.”