Disappeared From the Face of the Earth

Goizom's story

Goizom Danza Maleguidjeo’s name translates to “disappeared from the face of the Earth” in her native language in Cameroon. Unfortunately for Goizom, this is not far off from how she spent her childhood. She could not attend school or play with other children her age because of the fear from local parents in her village that she would bewitch their children.

It is a tradition in Goizom’s Mafa tribe for families to send their first daughter into marriage when they turn 16, but this was not the case for Goizom. At age 18, she still lived at home with no suitor, or any friends to talk to. The men in her village believed that since Goizom was born with a cleft, all of her future children would have clefts as well.

Goizom’s life changed one day when a Smile Train community worker came to her village. When the community worker announced that Smile Train helps provide free surgery for children with clefts, Goizom couldn’t believe the news. She knew her parents could not afford the financial cost of a surgery to fix her cleft and she had given up on her dream of having her cleft repaired a long time ago.

When Goizom arrived at Smile Train’s local partner, Maroua Regional hospital, she was surprised to see so many people who had similar cleft conditions as her own. She watched as patients would go in and out of surgery and was amazed by the great new smiles on their faces. When her turn finally arrived, she was ready. 18 long years of waiting for a new smile were finally over.

Today Goizom has returned to her village a completely changed person, proud of herself and full of self-confidence. No longer “disappeared from the face of the Earth,” she is looking forward to her bright future that is now full of endless possibilities.

Goizom After

Peggy Kamphausen: “I Uphold My Parents’ Legacy by Donating To Smile Train”

Smile Train supporter Peggy Kamphausen recently shared a heartwarming story of how her now late mother, at 94 years old, wanted to get a job to help a special Smile Train patient. Below is the story in Peggy’s own words.

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I took care of my parents when they were 94 years old. While my mother’s mind wasn’t always clear, her beautiful heart continued to feel. She saw a magazine ad for Smile Train with pictures of children before their clefts were repaired. She managed to tell me she wanted to get a job so she could afford to help the cleft children. With tears in her eyes, she pointed to the picture of the most severely affected little boy, “Him…I have to help him!” she said.

My beautiful mom and dad have passed away now, but every Christmas I honor her request. In my adult children’s Christmas stockings, I place a note that $250 has been donated in their Grandma and Grandpa’s memory to help a child. It is our special Christmas tradition.

There is peace and warmth in a smile. To me the Power Of A Smile is a universal language that instantly connects one heart to another. God bless everyone at Smile Train for the amazing work that they do.  And for helping me to fulfill my mother’s longing to help.

Two Generations of Uncertainty

When Lackson Koliesa was born, his mother Joyce was devastated when she saw that he had a cleft lip. Joyce learned from an early age how kids and adults treated people who look differently and she knew the suffering that lay ahead for her sweet boy.

Joyce was from a large family, including an uncle with a cleft lip. “My uncle had a cleft lip and was called an “ogre” by people in the village. When we walked down the streets kids used to scatter whenever they saw him, they all had their harrowing theories on why he had a cleft lip,” Joyce recalls.Luckson Koliesa Joyce tried as best as she could to get her son’s cleft lip fixed. But her hopes dwindled as time went on. She couldn’t afford paying for a reparative surgery for her son and she thought Lackson was in store for the same future as her uncle.

When she learned of Smile Train and the free surgeries local Smile Train surgeons help provide, she finally found her answer. She embarked on a four hour long journey from her town in Solwezi to Ndola. Joyce was filled with uncertainty the entire trip, wondering if her son would receive the free surgery. When Joyce and Lackson arrived in Ndola little Lackson was screened and cleared for surgery.

It frightened Joyce to send her baby into surgery, but when he emerged from the operating room less than an hour later, she knew she’d made the right decision. Lackson will never have to suffer the way her uncle did.

“You are my heroes” she says, “Smile Train gave my son a bright future.”

Luckson Koliesa (4)

Welcome Home Zachary: An Adoption Story

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Allison, mother of Zachary, a Smile Train cleft patient, tells us in her own words how much his surgery has impacted both of their lives.

This month, Zachary is turning FIVE! As it was certainly a miracle for him to make it to five days, much less five weeks, this is a momentous occasion.

Zachary is from the foothills of the Amhara highlands and was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As with so many children born with clefts around the world, his family’s reaction was to consider him as part of a curse, particularly as his was a severe, bilateral cleft lip and palate. Between such cultural views, a lack of medical care, and wide-scale poverty in Ethiopia, it is estimated that over 90% of babies with cleft lip and palate in that country do not survive.

Luckily, after a rough first week of life, some neighbors told Zachary’s birth mother about a non-profit hospital across the city that could help kids like him. Soon after, he was enrolled with Smile Train. The hospital cleft program set him up with squeeze-bottles for feeding, and with a formula program, so he could catch up on some much-needed nutrition. These measures saved his life.

While every effort is made to keep cleft children with their families, in Zachary’s case that was not an option. I had been living in Addis Ababa for several years, and was teaching at the American school there, when I first heard about Zachary. His doctors knew that I had completed a local adoption the previous year, and I was asked to share some information on the process.  Long story short, after all other doors closed, I happily agreed to adopt him. I brought him home just after his first lip repair surgery, and stayed with him in the Ethiopian hospital for his next two surgeries, as well.Tekola 13_5_10 #2

Now, Zachary is a happy, healthy, creative, energetic, and curious five-year-old. He and his older brother are the best of friends, and together we have all had some great adventures. He loves to hike, swim, sing, and entertain those around him…..he definitely makes full use of his great smile!

We have spent the past two years on the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten, where I am attending medical school. I am looking forward to being able to help kids like Zachary in the future.

As we celebrate Zachary this month, truly a “one in a million” kind of kid, we are grateful for Smile Train and all of those who have made his health and surgeries possible. As we say in Ethiopia, “Betam Amesegenalehu!”

From the hospital where Zachary received his Smile Train surgery;

“CURE International’s partnership with Smile Train has allowed CURE hospitals to have an even greater impact on children in the countries we serve. In Ethiopia alone, we have performed over 1,100 cleft surgeries, restoring the smiles of children and families that were once considered outcasts in their own families and communities. Stories of restoration and healing, like Zachary’s, drive home the need to make our organizations’ mutual focus on surgery a global health priority.”

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Li Suhai: An Improbable College Dream

Li Suhai after his follow up nose revision surgery

Li Suhai after his follow up nose revision surgery

Henan, ChinaIn his own words, 22 year old Li Suhai talks about the obstacles he had to overcome while growing up with a cleft in order to attend college.

My name is Li Suhai, I am 22 years old, and this is my story. I was born in a remote village of Henan and my family was very poor. My childhood was spent in misery and ridicule. Other children called me “rabbit lip”, and I was always fighting with them. Even though I wanted to speak, my words did not come out clearly which made me extremely angry and frustrated. Gradually I began to feel inferior and alienated by others.

In hopes of finding a cure for my birth defect, my father sold our only pig and took me to see a doctor in town, but sadly the money was not enough. My father and I returned home that day feeling hopeless. I secretly vowed that one day I would go to college to change my life, and help my family.

In 2003, when I was six, my father heard a message from our neighbor’s radio that a hospital in Zhoukou treats cleft lip and palate patients from Henan for free. With a heart full of hope, my father took me to Zhoukou Central Hospital. Stomatology director, Zhang Yuejin warmly received us, and reimbursed our travel expenses. Before long I got my surgery, and I will never forget the happy look on my father’s face when I revealed my new smile.

Since receiving help from Smile Train I have kept forging ahead in my life. I completed elementary school and went on to complete high school. Being encouraged and motivated by Smile Train’s spirit, I enjoyed learning, and step by step I have tried to improve my knowledge every day. All my hard work paid off the autumn day when I got the admission notice to my favorite college. It was a very important turning point in my life, and my college dream came true thanks to Smile Train.

Very big thanks to Smile Train and Zhoukou Central Hospital for returning hope into my life. I will continue to be grateful, work hard, and dedicate my time to bettering society, and giving back to everyone who cares for me.

New Year, Fresh Start: Lucas Oliveira Success Story

As a child, one of the hardest parts about having a cleft is looking different from everyone around you and finding acceptance. It’s not uncommon for children who attend school with clefts to be excluded from play, taunted and teased. Lucas Oliveira was one of these children stigmatized and bullied for his cleft and this unfortunately led to low self-esteem. Lucas says, “I spent the first 8 years of my life growing up very shy and sad.”

Thanks to Smile Train Partner Hospital, Associação Saúde Criança, Lucas was able to receive free surgery for his cleft and after the surgery and the physical and emotional healing started to begin. Next, Patricia signed Lucas up for music therapy treatment. Lucas began singing every day, and he even got his brother to practice singing with him when they were at home and the therapy was an astounding success. These choir sessions encouraged Lucas, boosted his confidence, and made him more comfortable with his speech. Today Lucas, besides being a singer is also a champion jiu jitsu fighter, an actor in soap operas, and a global model.

Patricia, says that she is forever grateful, and that she still, sends hospital updates and pictures of Lucca’s amazing progress. What a success story!

Lucas, after surgery, in one of his model shots.

Lucas, after surgery, in one of his model shots.

A True Journey of Smiles

Bosawas Jungle, Nicaragua—It’s not every day a man is willing to travel almost 175 hours, by air, land, and water, to make sure a patient receives cleft care, but that is exactly what Smile Train friend, Martin, did.

While on a short-term assignment in the Bosawas Jungle in Nicaragua, Martin Rojas met a nine-month-old with a cleft lip and palate, Queben Spelman. Because the little boy was from so deep inside the jungle, there was no knowledge of cleft, let alone treatment. Even if there had been, Queben’s mother, Bertalina, could not afford the surgery. There was no hope for Queben, until Martin came along.

After meeting Queben, Martin vowed to return to collect the infant and his mother so that Queben’s cleft could be repaired and five months later Martin fulfilled his promise.

“Having traveled all over the world and seeing dying children due to malnutrition, especially exacerbated by a cleft lip and palate and the subsistence, survival of the fittest, jungle living in which Queben lived, my biggest concern was that he would not be alive when I returned,” Martin said.

Martin’s journey started in Dallas, Texas. From there he landed in Managua, Nicaragua, drove about 12 hours (400 km) past where the road ended until driving became impossible. Then, Martin made a 23-hour journey via dugout canoe through three different rivers, spanning 200 km, to reach Queben and his mother in the heart of the jungle.

There was little rest upon arrival as Martin wanted to get Queben to the hospital as soon as possible as the little boy was suffering from malnutrition, due to his cleft, and was very ill.

“At 10 pounds and 12 ounces fully clothed and 24.4 inches long at 15 months old and not able to stand on his own. He was in awful shape, but alive!” Martin said.

With Queben and Bertalina this time in tow, Martin made his way out of the jungle and to the nearest Smile Train hospital in Leon, Nicaragua, which was just as grueling a journey.

Once at the hospital Queben was treated for malnutrition. He was there for about a month and half before he was healthy enough for surgery. During this time Bertalina proved herself to be a brave woman having never been out of the jungle or around any electrical appliances, cars, or elevators. The Smile Train team had to show Bertalina what a light switch was used for and how to use a faucet for she had never had electricity or running water.

After proper nourishment, Queben was able to receive his cleft lip and palate surgery. Once Queben recovered from surgery, Martin returned from Texas to bring the family back to their village in the jungle. Although a huge sacrifice, Martin was repaid by the happiness of Bertalina.

“Words can not express the immeasurable joy and peace written on the mother’s face. Her smile could not be contained for the joy in her heart at seeing her sickly son, on the verge of death, being brought back to life and given a second chance,” Martin wrote after returning from Nicaragua.

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