When Allo Charles was born with cleft lip, his parents recognized what the condition was, but had never personally seen it before. The children in their village who were previously born with cleft lip or palate were either in hiding or had been killed. Clefts in this village, in rural Chad, are seen by the villagers as a bad omen and are considered a punishment from God for the family’s sins. After Allo was born with a cleft lip, his parents quickly decided that every child is a gift and they would openly raise Allo in their community, without shame.
Almost immediately, there were harsh consequences. Allo’s family wasn’t allowed to attend village meetings, and they were socially ostracized. Allo remembered, “I couldn’t eat or play with others because their parents wouldn’t let their children get close to me. There were several superstitions about my cleft, and they even made me believe some of them. I thought I was cursed.”
When Allo attended primary school, he said that his fellow students and teachers made his life miserable. They said his education was a waste of time and he would never amount to anything. “School for me was hell, but living with an unrepaired cleft made me strong. The more I was insulted, the more I wanted to prove them wrong and make something of my life,” said Allo.
Allo thought that secondary school might be his chance for a better life. The day he left his village for a room in the much larger city of N’Djamena, his new landlord wouldn’t allow Allo to move in. The landlord said that his children were afraid of Allo and he did not want them to catch his disease. Allo decided to move in with his cousin while he figured out what to do next.
Fortunately, during this downtime from school, he saw a Facebook post from Smile Train partner WECCARE Foundation. He thought the offer of free cleft surgery was too good to be true, but decided to go to WECCARE after seeing the program was endorsed by the First Lady of Chad. “On that day, for the first time in my life, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. There were dozens of people who looked just like me at the hospital.” Three days later, Allo received his Smile Train sponsored, free cleft surgery.