Nairobi, Kenya – In late July, Peter Kimani was pushing his bicycle full of goods down the road when a stranger approached him to say hello. On August 3, he stepped out of Metropolitan Hospital, the warm sun beaming down upon his brand new smile.
Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Smile Train’s Regional Director of Africa, was driving through Kibati in Kenya’s Murang’a County when he saw a man with a bike coming in the opposite direction. While certainly not the first time a bicyclist passed a car, something caught Dr. Gitahi’s eye in the fleeting instant that made him pullover— the man had a cleft. Dr. Gitahi stepped out of his car and chased after the man. When he caught up, the stranger turned around. To Dr. Gitahi’s confusion, the man was biting his upper lip. Was the man consciously hiding his cleft lip? Had he made a mistake in that split second? Did the man even have a cleft lip? Would it be less awkward if he just returned to his car? Realizing that there would be no harm in asking, Dr. Gitahi said hello. The 37-year-old-man smiled back and introduced himself as Peter, revealing his unrepaired unilateral cleft lip.
Dr. Gitahi explained to him that he worked for Smile Train and asked Peter if he knew that he could receive free surgery to repair. To his shock, Peter responded that he had heard there was free surgery, but never followed up believing that there would be some sort of a catch for “free treatment.” Dr. Gitahi assured Peter that the surgery was legitimately free thanks to donors in other countries and they exchanged information. Before he was even back to his car, Dr. Gitahi was on the phone with his team to arrange a screening for Peter at Metropolitan Hospital. After being picked up and driven to the hospital by Dr. Gitahi and his team, Peter received his surgery on August 2nd. His excitement at having his cleft repaired after 37 long years rang through the hospital and as he looked in the mirror that his surgeon, Dr. Kimani Wanjeri, provided for the first time, he happily proclaimed that
Peter is scheduled to return to the hospital for a follow up on August 11th and is looking forward to showing off his new smile to everyone, promising to spread the word that Smile Train does provide free cleft surgeries.
The words that keep ringing in my mind are, ‘I dont believe it’s for free and yet I could never afford it!’ It just shows how many people we still need to reach out there and who are still suffering. Luckily, people like Peter become real ambassadors for Smile Train.”
Dr. Githinji Gitahi