Bringing back smiles

Wonderful Giving partners with Operation Smile to treat cleft lips and palates

When Wonderful Citrus employee Mariana Pedraza Gutiérrez first heard about Operation Smile, she immediately thought of her older brother.

Mariana knew all too well the painful social dynamics and discrimination her cleft-lipped brother, who chose to remain anonymous for this story, had endured throughout his life due to his condition. As a young boy, he was bullied in school, ultimately leading to his mother keeping him home and teaching him how to cook and farm. However, in La Aurora, Yecauatla, a small village deep in rural Mexico, cooking was perceived as a woman’s job, further exacerbating hurtful prejudices and stereotypes.

Never having learned Spanish, Mariana’s mother spoke only in her indigenous language, adding yet another barrier to her son’s development, as he also never learned Spanish. Perceived by some of their fellow Spanish-speaking villagers as inferior, they were denied service in local markets or even shooed out of them altogether. Mariana’s brother had no choice but to grow up in the shadows, denied many of life’s most basic necessities like having friends, getting an education, and building inner confidence.

Then came the day a new job would change all their lives.

Emboldened by the dream Mariana and her partner had of owning a home for their young family – the two share a five-year-old child – she began working at Wonderful Citrus. Mariana was determined not to let her own lack of education prevent her from achieving her goals. As fate would have it, it was at Wonderful Citrus where she learned about Operation Smile.

Operation Smile, a nonprofit organization that delivers safe surgery to treat cleft lips and palates, functions under the belief that access to safe surgery is not a privilege, but a universal human right. Supported in part by The Wonderful Company’s Wonderful Giving program and donations made by Wonderful Citrus employees, Operation Smile immediately brought Mariana a sense of hope she’d never felt. Knowing the challenges her brother faced, she knew this was an opportunity to truly change his life. And thanks to Wonderful Giving, the cost of her brother’s treatment would be fully covered.

Mariana visited her brother and pitched the idea to him. “We have never received help for my brother,” said Mariana. “We weren’t sure if this was for real.” Despite his own skepticism and fear, he agreed. Mariana and her brother traveled to Puebla, Mexico, for tests and interviews with hospital staff and he was selected for treatment. Despite a small infection simply treated with antibiotics, the procedure was a success.

“My brother is happy because his lip is no longer so extended, and he can speak more clearly,” said Mariana. “From what I see, it’s no longer uncomfortable. He still needs language therapy, but Operation Smile provided the exercises required to improve his speech.”

This newfound confidence has enabled her brother to speak with others, something he’d long avoided. And although he remains extremely shy and unaccustomed to even the smallest spotlight – he also did not want any photos taken for this story – Mariana has seen the positive impact in him already.  

I used to think that we would never receive help, but we found a way. There is always a way.

Mariana Gutiérrez

Wonderful Citrus employee

As part of their place-based giving approach, Lynda and Stewart Resnick grant every full-time Wonderful employee with an annual amount to give to the nonprofit or school of their choice. Funds may be given to a child’s school, a hospital, a neighborhood recreation center, a veterans’ group, and organizations like Operation Smile. Wonderful Giving has channeled more than $56 million into roughly 7,800 nonprofits since its creation in 2006.

At Wonderful, we firmly believe that focusing our efforts on the community level is the most effective way to make a positive and lasting impact.

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