I met an amazing U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, Sgt. Winston Fiore, a few weeks back and his story is amazing because he is on a 5,000-mile trek across Southeast Asia to raise awareness (and funds) for corrective facial surgery on children, young adults and even adults in the developing world.
Sgt. Fiore’s trek is taking him through countries such as Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand and Laos. He has never been to this part of the world. This trek was an idea born in 2007 in Senegal where he was stationed for 3 weeks. He got the idea of dedicating a year off from military service to see parts of the world he still hadn’t seen and do this on foot. And walk for a cause.
Back in New York, he began searching for a cause. His father sent him a newspaper clipping of Dr. Jeff Williams who had a comfortable lifestyle as a plastic surgeon but who would volunteer 1-2 weeks in a year with volunteer groups. Dr. Williams had grown disappointed with some of these volunteer groups so he decided to found International Children’s Surgical Foundation (ICSF) in 2005. Sgt. Fiore took a closer look at ICSF and decided to work with Dr. Williams.
His cause became children with cleft palates.
I am sure you have seen children and adults with cleft palates. The first thing that strikes you is that this disfigurement attracts attention of the wrong kind and deals a severe blow on the self-esteem of anyone afflicted with it. But beyond that, Sgt. Fiore told us that there are other problems associated with facial deformities.
#1: They have feeding problems
A child won’t form a proper seal around bottle or nipple so they lose a lot of weight instead of gaining weight.
#2: They have hearing problems
Build-up of fluid in middle ear occurs because clefts affect a tube in ear that regulates flow of fluid in the middle ear. If not drained, it can get the ears affected and lead to permanent hearing loss.
#3: They have speaking difficulties
Mouth deformities affect speech. On top of that if they have hearing loss, it adds to inability to hear sounds and therefore are often unable to mimic these.
#4: They have socializing issues
Facial deformities contribute to low social life and oftentimes, ridicule and bullying result as well.
Sgt. Fiore said that ICSF also does surgery on those with burn injuries because oftentimes, these injuries are not given priority by plastic surgery missions. They work with a lot of Rotary Clubs who help sponsor them.
Sgt. Fiore is nearing the end of his trek. He began in Singapore and other SEA countries, made his way to China and Taiwan and came to the Philippines. Here, he started his Philippine trek in Laoag, went to San Fernando, then Batangas, Mindoro and will cap it in Palawan before walking through Manila again or Cebu. We can follow his journey online at smiletrek.org
People like Sgt. Fiore are valuable finds in times like these when pleasure and self satisfying activities fill man’s time. And even more commendable — he is not even Asian. To see the world while walking for a cause is something that so many others who travel for pleasure only can emulate. I am indeed very privileged to have met Sgt. Winston Fiore. May he inspire others to take up causes as well for many who need help in this part of the world.