Struggling to Survive: Samwel’s Story

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In early 2015, Agnetta Muhawenimana gave birth to her first son, Samwel, who was unexpectedly born with a cleft lip. The extended family, many of whom worked with Agnetta at their small family farm, gathered at her home in anticipation of Samwel’s arrival. But instead they all sat in silence and feared for Samwel’s life.

Samwel began to lose weight because his cleft lip hindered his ability to breastfeed. Food was already scarce for the large family, and Agnetta did not know if her frail son would survive. After several weeks of trial and error, Agnetta discovered that she could feed Samwel breastmilk with a spoon, and he began to put on weight.

When Samwel was six-months-old, Agnetta heard a local radio host describing free Smile Train sponsored cleft surgery in Rwamagana. Agnetta knew this was her chance to provide Samwel a second chance at life, but she could not afford the transportation costs, as Smile Train’s partner hospital was 100 miles away. She decided to go door-to-door, asking to borrow money from neighbors until she had enough to cover the bus ride there. She would worry about how she was going to get home later.

In August of 2015, Samwel arrived at our Smile Train partner hospital in Rwamagana, and since he was at a healthy weight he was approved for free cleft lip surgery. When he came out of surgery, Agnetta said, “Bless all of the people who have given my son a new tomorrow.” After the local medical team was told about the family’s financial problems, Agnetta even received a small grant to cover the cost of transportation back home.

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