Vincent always used to feel different from other people. He was born with a pronounced cleft lip, and had to endure more than 40 years of teasing, mockery and discrimination. As he grew up in his village of Chang’anga in Malawi’s Mzimba District, his peers would laugh at him. He was unsure if he could ever marry due to this deformation, but fortunately he found a loving, supportive wife called Jennifer.

If you were to see a photo of Vincent now, it would be difficult to recognise him. Corrective surgery has utterly transformed his smile, his confidence and his world. These changes have come about thanks to Smile Train. This non-profit specialises in providing cleft lip and palate surgery and aftercare to people on low incomes, and is currently active in 85 countries around the world. Its team also trains medical surgeons on cleft-related matters, provides scholarships to doctors and organises speech therapy sessions to those whose physical limitations make communication difficult. Between 1999 and 2014, it provided over one million surgical operations.

Robin has documented Smile Train’s amazing work on four continents. The delicacy with which he approaches this sensitive topic, and his ability to earn the trust of those he photographs, has led the organisation to repeatedly request his services. On this particular assignment in Malawi, he skilfully captured the life-changing nature of Smile Train’s work for three different individuals, including one baby, telling two of their stories in a ‘journey’ format. This meant documenting their lives before surgery, then capturing the operations themselves and finally the impact on the subjects’ emotional wellbeing and self-esteem that the physical transformations yielded.


The gift of a smile

Public health

Smile Train

Madede, Mzimba District, Malawi

Camera settings
200mm, ISO 320, 1/160, f/2.8