Amir was worried about the arrival of his fifth child. He would need to find a way to support the family on an income of $36 a month as a struggling rice farmer living in West Java, Indonesia. When his son Sukma arrived with a cleft lip, Amir did not know what to do.
His small rice paddy crop, meant to be sold for income, was quickly exhausted to feed his family so Amir had to sign up for the only job he could find; carrying quarry rock down a mountain. Amir’s few moments of free time were spent looking for help for Sukma. Amir searched for free cleft surgery for his son and he was devastated when two cleft mission groups denied him without explanation.
When Sukma started school, his father said he would cry every day when he came home. He hated the teasing from his schoolmates and teachers in his school, but he said it was most hurtful when complete strangers would taunt him. Because of his frustration and the family’s financial situation, Sukma dropped out of primary school.
Sukma went to work to help out the family and he said for 17 years he lived in shame because of his unrepaired cleft lip. After 17 long years of waiting, Sukma heard about local Smile Train partner Obor Berkat hospital and the year-round free cleft surgeries they provide.
On his surgery day Sukma said that he was afraid, but excited. “My unrepaired cleft lip forced me to drop out of school and live my entire life in shame, when only 30 kilometers away free Smile Train surgery was waiting. It would have changed everything,” he said.
After his surgery Sukma reports that his father could not believe the change in him, “He keeps calling me handsome.” Looking toward the future, Sukma is happy to begin his new life that was 17 long years in the making.
Gulaab, spent 46 years of his life with an unrepaired cleft lip living in Pakistan. Because of his cleft, it was hard for him to find a job, so he made a living moving around from village to village putting on monkey shows. Gulaab formed strong bonds with his monkeys. He connected with them because they accepted him no matter what he looked like. Unfortunately, because of his unrepaired cleft, he was unable to form the same kind of bonds with other people.
One day Gulaab was putting on his show at a gas station, and he was approached by Dr. Ijaz Bashir, who by chance was the founder of the Cleft Centre Gujrat. Dr. Bashir told Gulaab that there was a way he could receive free cleft surgery. Gulaab was amazed and said it was the best news he’s ever heard.
When Gulaab arrived at the hospital, he worried that he couldn’t afford to take a break to heal from the surgery, his shows were his only livelihood. The Cleft Center Gujrat came up with a perfect solution. They offered to help compensate Gulaab by amusing the babies in the hospital who were waiting for their cleft surgeries with his monkey shows and Gulaab accepted the offer happily.
After his surgery Gulaab left with a big smile on his face. He was overjoyed to get back home to see his monkeys.
Sannidhanandan was born in a rural area of India with a cleft lip and palate. By the early age of six-years-old, Sannidhanandan found his calling and decided he was going to be a famous singer. His teachers and family encouraged him to keep practicing even though his singing voice was nasally due to his unrepaired cleft lip and palate.
In 2001, when he was 21 years old, a friend of his read about cleft surgeries performed by a doctor in Mangalore. Soon after the two traveled to Mangalore and Sannidhanandan was finally able to receive his new smile.
After his surgery, Sannidhanandan became confident enough to sing in public and he began pursuing his dream of being a famous singer. After training in classical music for years he decided to participate in one of India’s most popular singing competitions, “Asianet Idea Star Singer 2007”. With his sheer determination and willpower, Sannidhanandan quickly became a fan favorite and finished in the top 10!
Today Sannidhanandan has achieved his dream and is a very popular singer. He feels that he has been blessed with immense talent and wanted to put his popularity to good use. Recently he visited local Indian Smile Train partner Jubilee Mission Hospital and gave the parents of the cleft children words of encouragement. He shared his story of how he achieved his dreams late in his life after his cleft surgery, and he told them that they should never discourage their children from having big dreams.
Sule Alhassan (46, middle) and his wife Lami (36) share their joyful anticipation with Oral Health Advocacy Initiative’s chief surgeon, Dr. Ver-or, before their cleft surgery.
Adamawa, Nigeria—Many Smile Train patients are only able to fall in love and marry after they receive surgery. Whether it be the stigma, shame, or any other item on the laundry list of negative feelings associated with cleft, these emotions prevent those with unrepaired clefts from experiencing one of the most universal milestones—marriage.
For Sule Alhassan, 46 years old, and his wife Lami, 36 years old, though, having a cleft is what brought them together. Hailing from Adamawa state in Northeastern Nigeria, the couple was among 30 other cleft patients being treated during Smile Train partner Oral Health Advocacy Initiative’s cleft week last month.
Sule (top) and Lami before and after their surgeries.
The two met when Sule saw Lami while working as a gatekeeper for the local hospital—it was his first day on the job. Lami at the time was a beggar, stigmatized because of her cleft. Sule recalls their first meeting with much joy. He said he was instantly attracted to Lami for her beauty and because she shared something in common with him. Not long after their first meeting Sule proposed marriage. The couple have been married for 16 years and have 13 children! Through nine pregnancies Lami has delivered one set of triplets, two sets of twins, and has had six single births. None of the children were born with a cleft.
Living in an area of Nigeria where the average person makes a little less than four dollars a day and raising 13 children, the couple never imagined they would be able to have their clefts repaired because of the cost. Thanks to the generous Smile Train donors and doctors they were able to get the surgery they had waited decades for.
Both Sule and Lami had successful surgeries and are excited about their new look, new smile, and new life.