The Importance of Awareness

Kano, Nigeria – Within moments of giving birth, Mariya Habibu went from the extreme joy of seeing her daughter Fadima for the first time to absolute heartbreak. Fadima was born with a unilateral cleft lip. Having grown up seeing others with unrepaired clefts, Mariya knew just how tough her new daughter’s life would be. She was devastated to think of how the stigma associated with cleft would impact her daughter for the rest of her life.

Fadima Habibu before cleft lip surgeryBefore this forlorn sense of doom settled into her heart, Mariya was given a lifeline by the midwife that delivered Fadima into the world. She told Mariya that if she traveled from her village to the city, Fadima could receive free cleft surgery to repair her disfigurement. The midwife even told her where to go: Smile Train partner Grass-root Smile Initiative at the Armed Forces Specialist Hospital, Kano.

Not wasting any time, Mariya borrowed money from her friends and neighbors to travel to Kano and on the third day of her life, Fadima was in front of Smile Train partner surgeons. Standard medical practice dictates that a cleft lip surgery should be performed at age 3 months, not 3 days. The hospital staff explained to Mariya that she would need to wait for her daughter to grow strong enough for the surgery. After educating her how to properly feed Fadima and on vaccinations her baby would need, the staff sent her home with a follow up date.

Mariya and Fadima Habibu after Fadima's free cleft lip surgerySure enough, Mariya arrived early to make sure that the doctors hadn’t forgotten about little Fadima. Fadima received free cleft surgery later that day. When Mariya and Fadima were discharged, Mariya gave her undying thanks to the Smile Train doctors, medical staff, and “all of the nice people who she would never meet” that paid for her daughter’s surgery. She promised to continue to tell everyone she came across that clefts are not a curse and that they can be repaired for free, just as her midwife had done months before.

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