Ednah Wambani was shocked when she saw her infant son’s cleft lip, especially since she had given birth to four healthy children previously. She had seen other children with unrepaired clefts, but couldn’t imagine that one of her children would be born with a cleft. During the first few months, Ednah said that her neighbors in Kamasielo, Kenya would walk by the house and laugh at her baby. She was so upset that she never let David out of the house.
A year later, Ednah took David to a local clinic for a check-up. The clinic staff told Ednah that David’s cleft lip was a solvable problem and that there was a Smile Train partner hospital only four miles away. She knew she would never be able to afford David’s cleft surgery on her grocery clerk salary, but after a short evaluation she was overcome with joy to find that David was eligible for a Smile Train sponsored free cleft surgery.
When surgery day arrived, Ednah carried David on her back for the four mile trip because she did not have money for transportation. The moment David emerged from the operating theater she said that it all was worth it because now her baby would not have to live in shame.
On a recent follow-up visit to the Smile Train partner hospital, Ednah reported, “The village has stopped laughing at us, everyone was delighted to see how healthy David looks – now he will be included in our village society.”
Peter Ojok was born with a bilateral cleft lip in Kabar, Uganda. The name ‘Ojok’ in Uganda literally translates to ‘cursed by god’. Peter’s father passed away when he was young, and his mother Sophia was left to raise Peter and his four siblings alone.
When Peter became old enough to attend school, he was denied entry because of the village’s social stigma toward clefts. Sophia recalls that people always treated the family differently after Peter was born, “they said he was a sign of our family’s bad luck.”
After years of saving her money, Sophia found a nearby medical facility that would operate on Peter’s cleft lip. This non-Smile Train affiliated hospital completed the cleft surgery, but it was unsuccessful. Sophia did not know what to do, she didn’t have enough money for another surgery.
Peter after his Smile Train surgery
Fortunately, Smile Train partner hospital CoRSU held a community outreach campaign in Gulu District, Uganda and outreach workers soon referred Peter to CoRSU for his free cleft repair surgery. In March 2015, Smile Train partner surgeon Dr. George Galiwango completed a stunning cleft repair that left Peter’s mother in disbelief.
14-year-old Peter also benefits from free dental care at the newly established dental clinic at CoRSU. Now that the surgeries are complete he plans to fulfill his greatest desire of attending school alongside of his siblings.
Monica was born with a cleft lip and palate in Snohomish, Washington. As an infant she had to stay in the hospital for months because of her many medical complications. Since then she has had five surgeries pertaining to her cleft, but with strength and determination, Monica made it through it all and is now a healthy student at Glacier Peak High School.
Monica joined her school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) with the idea to start a fundraiser for less fortunate children with clefts and Smile Train. In the fundraiser’s first year Monica was able to raise enough for money one surgery.
This year, now as Vice President of Community Service for FBLA, Monica had the opportunity to give a presentation in her school’s auditorium about Smile Train and her own personal story. In her speech Monica says, “…a smile is a symbol of peace, happiness, and love.”
“Over my lifetime I have changed from a person who stood on the sidelines and watched life move around me…to a person who took control of my own destiny. I can say that I am a lot better for it. I was blessed with the opportunity when I received my lifesaving surgery and have had family, friends, and mentors who have supported me throughout my entire life. It is an honor to be able to come to this phenomenal school and stand up on this stage in front of you all today. Unfortunately, those blessings aren’t universal. There are children who get turned away from ever going to school and whose families abandon them.”
Watch Monica’s full presentation here.
This year her school raised enough money for more than six children to get new smiles. Monica says, “Over these past two years, it has been an honor to be able to share Smile Train’s mission and to be able to support an amazing organization that not only gives the gift of a smile, but a gift of hope.”
Sara Rezk, from Fairfax VA is a mother of two, and her youngest, Seleem, was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate. Here’s what the Power Of A Smile means to her.
If you could give one piece of advice to a child with cleft what would it be?
CELEBRATE WHO YOU ARE! You are amazing children who will have to go through some additional hardships in life. The cleft you were born with does not define who you can or cannot be. Find your passion and run with it.
If you could give one piece of advice to another parent whose child was born with cleft what would it be?
With all the madness and emotions that come with a cleft diagnosis, hang in there. One day you will look back and miss your little one’s wide smile so much! This whole journey will not only empower you as parents, it will have a lasting impact on the family as a whole.
What makes you smile?
Seeing my child being so brave. Nothing gets in his way! At just 2, he is already inspiring so many people around him.
What did your child being born with a cleft teach you about life?
That we really shouldn’t just see people at face value. This is a very diverse world and we need to embrace everyone around us, whether a different culture, appearance, life style, beliefs or religion.
What does the “Power of a Smile” mean to you/ why do you think it’s so important?
Power of a Smile means hope and connection!
What has the “Power of a Smile” done for you in your life?
It has broken barriers and given me the chance to get to know so many amazing people.