Bahar Dar, Ethiopia — Smile Train’s Program Manager of East Africa, Dr. Esther Njoroge, reports from the field.
I always enjoy visiting Ethiopia and for selfish reasons, it’s the only time I can claim to be eight years younger and technically I would not be lying. The reason is they follow the Orthodox calendar, and therefore today is 17/8/2005, brilliant, no?
Today, I got to spend my time not boasting of my young age, but with a special group of people, cleft lip and palate patients from the Amhara region and beyond. It was the second day of a cleft week at Gamby Hospital, Bahar Dar. A week when the hospital dedicates its operating rooms for cleft surgery. The week is preceded by a month of intense awareness creation and mobilization. By today morning, 40 patients (and their parents or guardians) had gathered at the hospital, and we expect more as the week wears on. When the surgeons and I walked in, we were greeted by a multitude of eager, hopeful faces. They had traveled long distances; some had walked for two days to get to the point of public transport.
And so I spent the day talking to them and listening to their varied stories as well as sharing in their hopes and dreams. The best part about a day like today, is knowing deep down that we have changed people’s lives, possibly altered their destiny.
Meet Adenew, a shy 15 year old boy who is in 7th grade. He comes from Eastern Belessa, some 240km or so from Bahar Dar. He enjoys playing football and volleyball with his friends, and he dreams of being a private investor one day. A good choice of career, I tell him, private business is booming in Ethiopia right now and possibly in the foreseeable future. I ask him why he wants his cleft repaired, why he has travelled so far. “Though am not stigmatized because of my cleft, I feel bad living with a cleft, and I want to be like normal people” he replies and goes back to staring at the same spot on the floor. This is a survival mechanism for him, I realize, for as long as he is looking at that spot, one cannot immediately tell he has a cleft! Adenew finally gets his turn at the close of the day, and the smile on his face and eyes after I showed him his ‘after surgery’ photo spoke volumes!
The young lady at the beginning of this blog is Tesfaye Manaye, who is my daughter’s age, three going on sixteen. She is the most adorable kid you can imagine and she had the cutest shoes. A last born in a family of three, she is the only one with a cleft in her entire family. Her mother traveled more than 280km, to give her a chance at a life without ridicule. Am sure that’s just what they received today, and after Tesfaye wakes up, the swelling goes down and the healing takes place, the smile on her beautiful face will be precious to see.
And the triple bounty went to Mr. Siraw Mengest from Lalibela. At 59 years of age, he has lived with a cleft lip all his life. And what is worse, his two grandchildren, Mamite, 10 and Tekeba, 12 were born with a cleft as well. Today, a journey of two days on foot and 200km by bus coupled with all his hope and faith will bear fruit. Their clefts will be repaired, their lives changed forever, just by a smile.
Thank you Smile Train, on behalf of all these people for providing the fuel that keeps this train moving.