One Big Happy Family

Mr. Nyawenda and his four children all had cleft lips, and they all received free Smile Train cleft surgery

Bujumbura, Burundi— As part of our STOP Clefts Burundi program, our partner Surgical Centre Smile Train Mbarara traveled from Uganda to host a free cleft surgery camp and help develop a local medical team to provide the surgeries themselves. Of the many patients to receive free cleft surgery, Mr. Nyawenda and his family certainly stand out.

Mr. Nyawenda is a security watchman at a facility in the capital. Having lived with an unrepaired cleft lip his entire life, when a friend told him that Smile Train was providing free cleft surgery, he was ecstatic but, at the same time, saddened.

When he arrived at the camp, he pressed to have his operation as quickly as possible since he would lose his job if he stayed too long. The medical team soon discovered that his mixed emotions about his upcoming surgery were not just from the fear of losing his job. Mr. Nyawenda’s four children aged 17, 9, 5, and 2 years old were all born with cleft lips.

The doctors asked why he did not bring his children with him. He sadly admitted that they were in his village over 120km (75 miles) away. He hadn’t seen them for a long time and he didn’t have the money to go get them. Within hours, our Smile Train partner had a car pick the children and Mom up and they were on their way to the hospital.

After lots of hugs and a happy a reunion, the children were examined and cleared for surgery. When their sutures heal and the swelling goes down, Mr. Nyawenda, his wife, and their four children will have plenty to smile.

When I Grow Up…

Kampala, Ugandatoday’s blog comes from Smile Train Marketing Associate Adina Wexelberg-Clouser, who is currently in Uganda as part of her Master’s degree and has been working with our partners in the field and visiting former patients.

Smile Train patient Olivia two years after her free cleft lip surgery

“I want to be a doctor!”

Before she received Smile Train sponsored cleft surgery at 10 years old, this is a dream that would never have been feasible for Olivia Nabusiita.

Born in a remote village hours outside of Kampala, Olivia’s mother had taken her newborn to a local healer to see if he could fix her daughter’s disfigured mouth. The healer, who had no surgical experience, had cut open her lips and attempted to stitch them back together. Soon after, the stitches burst open and Olivia spent her childhood being mocked and bullied by other children in her village.

Smile Train patient Olivia before free cleft lip surgery

When Olivia was six years old, her mother was no longer able to care for her and Olivia was sent to another village to live with her mother’s friend and her family. Because of the way she was treated by others in her village, she refused to attend school and seemed destined to spend her life as a social outcast. Years later, a neighbor heard a radio announcement about Smile Train’s free cleft surgery program at nearby Kibuli Muslim Hospital and told Regina that Olivia could be helped.

Although she was scared, Regina immediately took Olivia for treatment. Since her surgery two years ago, Olivia has returned to school and is determined to study hard in order to achieve her dream of giving others the same help that she has received. When asked what has changed in her life after receiving the surgery, a shy smile spreads across her face. “Now, I feel beautiful”, she responds.