Behind Each Smile, There is an Unspoken Story to be Told | Jean Paul Laurent
I came to the United States in 2004 with just a suitcase and a dream to excel. Now it was undoubtedly one of the greatest days of my life. Not necessarily for the reason most people may think. But simply because I loved the idea of connecting with people from all over the world.
And so far, I have mastered 4 languages. English (Thumbs up). And if you haven’t noticed, I speak with a Haitian accent. (possible laughter). So I speak Creole. “Sak Passe.” and also French. ”We We.”
Connecting with people in their native tongue fascinates me, especially since there are over 2000 different languages.
The fourth language is one that allows me to connect more than any of the other 3. It is a language that transcends all boundaries, religions, ethnicities, colors, and socio-economic status. You are in luck, because today, I am going to show you the importance of this powerful language in the next 15 minutes.
But first, let’s go back to Haiti, a country known by most as one of the world’s poorest countries and the poorest in the Americas region, with poverty, corruption, poor infrastructure, lack of health care and lack of education.
But to me this beautiful island inhabited by over 10 million resilient people is the first black republic in the history of the world, rising against slavery to self govern and earn their freedom through sacrifice and determination. It’s my place of birth, and it’s also the impetus for my greatest work.
My bold vision to change the world rose from the ruins of the devastating Haiti earthquake and has turned into global activism connecting people through the universal language that brings me here today.
The language that has the power to connect us all in this crazy world, is the natural human instinct to SMILE.
Did you know that children on average smile over 400 times per day? They are constantly communicating how they feel, especially when they are happy.
There is nothing more pure, more human, more real, than a smile lighting up a child’s face.
I will never forget working with my brother in Haiti after the earthquake at a camp near petion-ville filled with thousands of displaced people, including children who were speaking very clearly. With tragedy, death, destruction all around, and they were still smiling.
And behind those smiles, I knew there was a story to be told. The story behind their smiles were of heartbreak, loss, confusion, hunger, thirst, and poor oral health.
At this moment, I found my calling. I immediately knew that I could help these children turn the stories behind their smiles from sadness, to good health and well being.
As a dental hygiene student at NYU College of Dentistry, I contacted a famously philanthropic dental supply company, and was provided with enough dental supplies for 1,000 children. Shortly thereafter, I landed in Port-au-Prince, the very first time back since moving to the U.S. I began screening the children as well as administering fluoride treatments. While the kids were overjoyed at the basic treatment they received, I was troubled by how poor their dental health was and how woefully ignorant they were of basic dental practices.
And it was the duality of this moment that would give Unspoken Smiles Foundation its name because, as I immediately realized
“behind each smile, there is an unspoken story to be told.”
With a cause, a little seed funding from the Resolution Project, and a name it was time to make a change.
Since its inception in 2014, I have grown Unspoken Smiles into a reputable and impactful nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting both long-term oral health and economic security in the world’s most disadvantaged regions in India, Haiti, Romania, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iraqi Kurdistan, United States, and most recently Costa Rica.The Foundation provides early oral health treatment and education for local school children, and dental assistance fellowship ttrainings to young local women with otherwise inadequate earning opportunities, empowering them with a sustainable career in Dentistry.
Building on the success of past initiatives where we served nearly 7,000 children in 8 countries across 4 continents, the year 2019 will mark a pivotal point for our growth at Unspoken Smiles. That’s why we are rolling out the biggest call-to-action effort our organization has ever seen — to train 10,000 fellows over the next 11 years.
This will allow us to rebuild the entire oral health infrastructure and increase the resources needed to create better access to quality dental care globally. We’ll increase our reach to treat 1 million children currently living with untreated tooth decay around the world by 2030.
This is an ambitious and incredible moment in the fight to solve one of the most overlooked health problems in the world — bringing primary oral health care to ALL. I ask you to join me in realizing the shared vision of oral health for everyone.
Every smile has a story behind it. The next time you see someone smile, know that they are communicating to you in this language, and now you know how to reply:
And, stay fluent in this language, because you are now part of this global movement, every time you smile. And together, no matter what your story, you can make the world more connected, one smile at a time.
More about TEDxWaterStreet
TEDxWaterStreet brings together like-minded individuals who are intentional about resetting as thinkers, leaders, friends and community members to bring about a new perspective on how we press forward. The event aims to challenge human discomfort with obstacles and instead celebrate the strength that accompanies curiosity and the ability to dream. TEDxWaterStreet leaders will speak the language of possibility and foster a rediscovery of what the future holds for our shared humanity. Speakers are chosen through a highly-curated process by a select team that takes into consideration the best ideas. Founded in 2019, TEDxWaterStreet aims to put the NYC community onto a new type of global activity map that is being watched, shared, and talked about by the world’s top thought leaders.
About TEDx, x = independently organized event
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TED Talks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)
TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or fewer) delivered by today’s leading thinkers and doers. Many of these talks are given at TED’s annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, and made available, free, on TED.com. TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Sal Khan and Daniel Kahneman.
TED’s open and free initiatives for spreading ideas include TED.com, where new TED Talk videos are posted daily; the TED Translators Program, which provides subtitles and interactive transcripts as well as translations from thousands of volunteers worldwide; the educational initiative TED-Ed; the annual million-dollar TED Prize, which funds exceptional individuals with a “wish,” or idea, to create change in the world; TEDx, which provides licenses to thousands of individuals and groups who host local, self-organized TED-style events around the world; and the TED Fellows program, which selects innovators from around the globe to amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.
Watch the full talk below: