Smile Train: Iris Mittenaere visits cleft patients in Cote D'Ivoire

Iris Mittenaere admirably lent her time and voice to Smile Train during her reign as Miss Universe 2016, including international visits to Mexico and Haiti to witness Smile Train’s local programs firsthand. While Iris’s tenure as Miss Universe has ended, her work as a Smile Train ambassador continues — she is even working toward becoming a dental surgeon.

When Iris was invited to attend the opening of a new hospital by the First Lady of Côte D'Ivoire, she called Smile Train staff to see if she could learn more about Smile Train’s programs in the area. Regional Smile Train staff Nkeiruka Obi and Nicole Bouba (pictured below left and right respectively) gladly accepted and offered to show Iris around.

The group’s first visit was to the home of a former Smile Train patient named Manou. Iris chatted with Manou’s grandmother in French and she learned, sadly, that Manou’s mother and father had abandoned her as a child. Manou’s grandmother proudly reported that her granddaughter is thriving and attending school, thanks in-part to her Smile Train sponsored cleft surgery. The grandmother asked to send her thanks to Smile Train’s supporters who changed Manou’s life.

Iris showed Manou pictures of her Miss Universe win on her cellphone — the two agreed that Manou could grow up to be a queen one day too.

Next, Iris and the group traveled to visit the Konaté family, who have two sons who’ve received free Smile Train cleft surgeries. While the family of six still struggle in their small studio apartment, supported only by mother Siami selling small bags of drinking water, they tell Iris their lives have dramatically improved since the cleft surgeries. Siami says that the family is relieved to be fully accepted by their community.

8-year-old Souleymane is doing especially well, as he’s used his love for soccer to make lots of friends. Iris even joined in and kicked the ball around with her new friend.

The last stop of the trip was a dinner with Smile Train partners Sourire a la Vie and Cure our Children in Africa. Nicole said of the dinner, “We welcomed Iris and celebrated the impact of Smile Train around the world and particularly in Côte D’Ivoire. Iris also spoke about her job as an ambassador — many of our partners had questions — it was a great time of sharing and exchange.”

Nkeiruka added, “Iris is as beautiful on the inside as the outside. When we visited the families, she was brought to tears — what a beautiful heart full of humanity!”

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