His Grain of Sand

Driving down his typical sales route, Victor Hernández, a Sabritas delivery driver in Chiapas, Mexico, saw something that shook him to his core.

After noticing a group of children playing together near the side of the road, Victor decided to pull his truck over and offer them a simple act of kindness – some bags of free potato chips.

When Victor approached the kids, he came face to face with Irma, a 5-year-old girl who was living with an untreated cleft lip and palate.

Immediately, he began making phone calls to his colleagues to find help for her.

“For me, it was important to act immediately because … the faster I acted, the chances of finding help would be better,” Victor said. “I would be able to get more support. It involves looking here, searching there, talking to this person, talking to that person, and maybe that way I was going to find support faster.”

Sabritas driver Victor Hernández stands in front of his delivery truck in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

It was then that Victor learned that Sabritas is a long-standing corporate partner of Operation Smile Mexico. Sabritas is a subsidiary of PepsiCo as is Lay’s, which partnered with Operation Smile for two successful U.S. campaigns, “Smile with Lay’s,” that raised $1 million in both 2018 and 2019.

And one of his colleagues told him that, at that very moment, Operation Smile was hosting a medical mission just 40 minutes away from Irma’s community.

Victor returned to explain to Irma’s parents that free and safe surgery was possible at the mission.

After Victor carefully explained what they could expect, Irma’s parents agreed to have him pick them up and take them to the mission site two days later.

This was the first time that Irma had ever left her community.

After receiving a comprehensive health evaluation from Operation Smile Mexico medical volunteers, Irma underwent surgery to repair her cleft condition, ensuring a brighter future full of smiles – a future that she always deserved.

“Seeing her finally smile, and with her face completely changed, despite the stitches she had, gave me a pleasant feeling,” Victor said. “It’s really indescribable because we knew then that this girl would have a completely different life.”

Photo: Rohanna Mertens.
Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

Today, Victor continues his advocacy for patients like Irma living with cleft conditions in the communities around his route.

“After little Irma’s operation, I tried to get more involved,” Victor said. “I felt the urge to put up posters in stores, talk to people and see if they knew anyone with the same condition, try to get them to approach me so that I could channel them into the right hands.

“As a human being, I felt so much tenderness and concern to see the needs of these children.”

Victor’s commitment to spreading awareness continued to strengthen, and more people began to see him as a reference for Operation Smile Mexico – as a person they could trust to help.

Eleven-month-old Carlos with his parents, Azucena and Juan Carlos, and Victor at their home in Pueblo Nuevo, Mexico. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

It was then that Juan Carlos and Azucena approached Victor, hoping that he would help their 11-month-old son, Carlos, who was living with an unrepaired cleft. Victor immediately told them that Operation Smile Mexico was the solution.

Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

“Little Carlos’ parents are young and, like all parents, sometimes they worry a lot about their children,” Victor said. “But I see that they care for him, love him, and they’ve done the impossible by bringing him (to Operation Smile).”

Medical volunteers performed a comprehensive health evaluation on Carlos and determined that he was healthy enough to receive safe surgery and a new smile.

The day that Victor made the decision to help Irma, the course of his life changed forever. And connecting Carlos and his family to Operation Smile only inspired Victor to do more for the people living with cleft in Mexico.

“One’s life changes when one cares about the little people one helps,” Victor said. “I feel really good, and I would like to help more people. I know that, perhaps, what we do is a small thing, just a grain of sand, but with that grain of sand, a life can be changed. And if we just look around us, we can see more people in need.”

Victor with Azucena as she holds Carlos in her arms after surgery during Operation Smile's May 2019 medical mission in Mexico. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.