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How a Single Smile Changed Hundreds of Lives

The story of a baby boy in the Philippines with cleft clip who sparked the beginning of a nonprofit organization.

Woman in the Philippines holding her child with cleft lip

In December of 2011, Arlen Van Os was vacationing on the island of Bantayan in the Philippines. He was mesmerized by the beauty of the beaches and the lively and kind people living there. One fateful day, as he was taking a stroll in a neighborhood and taking pictures of the scenery, he saw a newborn baby with a rather curious look upon his face. The baby was full of innocence and love, yet Arlen couldn’t help but notice the slits on his upper lip. He asked the mother about it and she answered, “He has a cleft lip.” Arlen asked the mother if he could take a picture with her and the baby. With the baby in her arms, the mother smiled for a photo.

The picture that Arlen took of that little boy would soon travel to the other side of the world and touch the hearts of many people. A picture that changed the lives of hundreds of children born with an orofacial cleft lip and cleft palate in the Philippines. For that baby boy (Sam) was responsible for starting Abounding in Love, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping children with cleft lip and palate. Their charity arranges free surgery for these children and also provide them with transportation, medicine, milk, and other things they need.

Sam's Story

Filipino boy smiling after receiving free cleft lip surgery from a nonprofit organization

Meet Sam, now a nine-year-old boy living in a small town of Santa Fe in Bantayan Island, Philippines. Sam was born on November 24, 2011, with a bilateral cleft lip. His family was shocked and sad when they first saw the baby. Given their circumstances, they thought they couldn’t possibly give him everything he needed. When asked what she felt, Sam’s mother answered, “Na louy ko pero amon gapon siya gidawat kay amo man ang gihatag sa Ginoo.” Translation: I felt pity for my child but we accepted him because he is what God gave us.

Sam grew up in a loving family but lack of food and poverty was a great problem. His parents couldn’t even afford the milk and diapers that he needed. And so, surgery for Sam seemed like an impossibility. When Arlen learned about the family’s living situation, he offered to provide the child’s necessities and more importantly, his cleft lip surgery. It was a life-changing event for the family since it gave Sam the chance of having a normal childhood.

Vanessa, Sam’s mother, was profoundly thankful to Arlen because they wouldn’t have been able to afford cleft surgery on their own. Back then, Sam’s father (Anthony) was a carpenter helper and only earned 150 to 200 pesos ($3 - $4) a day. Sam and his family were living together with his grandmother in a small house made of bamboo. Their family used to share a home with his cousins as well as 4 adults and 5 children.

A Filipino family of 4 posing for a picture in front of their house

Arlen was touched by Sam’s story and his parents’ perseverance in giving him a perfect and normal life. He decided to create an organization that would help provide free cleft lip and cleft palate surgery for children in the Philippines. Thus, the Abounding in Love Organization was born.

Sam was discovered when he was just one month old. He was not able to be admitted for surgery until June 11, 2012, because he was still so young. After he turned 1, he received another surgery for his right lip cleft. The family was ecstatic! Finally, Sam’s surgery was finished and he could properly eat, talk, and grow up without people teasing him. Nonetheless, this happiness was short-lived.

During his healing period, Sam was constantly crying and developed a habit of sucking on his stitches. Because of this, Sam required another surgery when he was three years old to fix his sutures. However, he did not pass for surgery. It wasn’t until he was 4 years old when he was admitted for his 3rd surgery. During Sam’s recovery, his stitches stretched and broke open once again. Two years after his last surgery, he got another to fix his stitches. Sam was six years old when he received his last surgery. Vanessa decided to wait until Sam was older to fully fix his bilateral cleft lip, hoping he would be mature enough not to cry and stop his habit of sucking on the sutures. This year, Sam was supposed to have another surgery to fix the skin edges of his lip that have separated but, because of the pandemic, there are no medical missions available.

The pandemic has also created a shortage of projects for Sam’s father. Poverty is still a huge issue for them. Nevertheless, through God’s plan, the Abounding in Love Organization has continued to grow and is ready to aid Sam and his family with whatever problems they face. When Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) hit the Philippines in 2013, Sam’s family lost their home and livelihood. Abounding in Love helped build a new home for the family, and also gave a job to Anthony as a carpenter helper.

A family in the Philippines shows off their new house that was built by a cleft charity

According to his mother, bullying and teasing have been a regular occurrence for Sam. When he was in the 1st grade, he spent a whole day at school looking down and crying because he was so insecure about his cleft. Whenever Sam was teased, he wouldn’t fight back, he just cried. Being a mother, it breaks Vanessa’s heart every time he gets upset. She knows that living a normal life is hard and they can’t provide Sam with everything that he requires. However, they see that he is trying.

Life After Cleft Lip Surgery

After the surgeries, Sam is now more friendly and confident. He has a lot of friends that he plays with and is working hard at school. He dreams of becoming a doctor someday, hoping to help children who are just like him. Although Sam still gets shy when someone teases him, he has learned to ignore those bullies and just smile.

At such a young age, Sam has already overcome so much. He faced his insecurities with a face held high and it was made possible because of his loving and supportive family. More notably, the family is thankful to Abounding in Love for all the help they gave to Sam. They hope that the charity will grow and help more children in similar situations.

Young boy and girl riding a bicycle in the Philippines

Sam's story was only the beginning. He was the spark that brought Abounding in Love into existence. Now, that fire has grown and is overflowing because the organization has helped over 500 children who were born with cleft lip and/or palate.

It is absolutely baffling how a single moment can change history. Similar to the butterfly effect, if Arlen had not been vacationing in the Philippines and taking a stroll at that specific place and time in Bantayan Island, he would not have met Sam. If he had not met Sam, the Abounding in Love Organization would not be around today.

God brought them together for a reason and a purpose. Their meeting was not a coincidence, but rather it was a part of God’s plan to help Filipino children suffering from cleft; to utilize Abounding in Love to spread an overabundance of love and kindness to these children as their families.

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