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DOCTORS COME TO AID OF KIDS IN ECUADOR TEAM TRAVELS TO FIX CLEFT LIPS, PALATES.

Byline: Susan Abram Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - Some children from Ecuador have more to smile about these days, thanks to local efforts that coordinated a medical mission to a city of 20,000 in the Amazon basin.

A team of 22 volunteers who participated in the Santa Clarita Valley International Program have returned from a weeklong trip to Tena, Ecuador, Santa Clarita's sister city. While there, they assisted Los Angeles doctors in a series of operations on cleft lips and palates of children from villages in the area.

Without the volunteers' help, few Tena-area families would have the means to get the surgery for their children. About two dozen children were treated, said Carl Boyer, founder of the program. ``The doctors did some absolutely beautiful work,'' Boyer said. ``One little 4-year-old girl was just so incredibly thrilled. Her mother was just beaming. The ones who were old enough to realize what was happening were just thrilled.''

The cause of cleft lips and palates is not entirely understood, according to published reports. But some researchers say it is a congenital defect that occurs early in pregnancy and may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors such as malnutrition. In many countries, it is considered a stigma in the family.

``That's true in almost every Third World situation I've seen,'' Boyer said. ``The children are kind of hidden away. One of the problems is after we do the job, they desperately need speech help afterward.''

Volunteers also participated in other missions, such as providing computers to schools and a homeless shelter for runaway boys, Boyer said.

The city of Tena was chosen after a delegation from Santa Clarita visited there years ago to establish it as a sister city. Tena was once a colonial trading post in the Amazon, and it is now the commercial center and capital of the Napo province. The city is located about five hours southeast of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and is surrounded by rain forest.

Tena is known for the lush forests and the rivers surrounding it. It attracts white-water enthusiasts for its outstanding rafting and kayaking.

The trip was intended to be both a medical mission and an opportunity to develop ties between Santa Clarita and Tena for future economic development.

``This was the first time we'd ever done a larger mission like this,'' Boyer said. ``I suspect we are going to keep up with the missions and hopefully, we will do them more often. I think it opens up our eyes with appreciation of what individuals can do to help people in a country that doesn't have the resources we have.''

Boyer said the team has been asked to return to assist in various eye surgeries there, and donations are always being accepted.

Judy Belue, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club Foundation, was also on the team of volunteers and called the mission life-changing.

``It was even better than what I had anticipated because this was one of the more meaningful trips,'' she said. ``It was wonderful that we were a part of the medical missions.''

The Santa Clarita Valley International Program is the local nonprofit sister city organization. Sariaya, in the Philippines, also is a sister city. The goal of the program is to create and maintain sister-city relationships for education, economic development and cultural awareness.

For more information about the Santa Clarita Valley International Program, call Elena Galvez at (661) 255-4317.

Susan Abram, (661) 257-5257

susan.abram(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2) Above left, a young girl is shown before surgery to correct a lopsided nose, a congenital defect. Above right, she's bandaged and healing after the operation.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 31, 2004
Words:616
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