Frozen by Fear: Sophia’s Story

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Mohammed Nisar and his wife never learned how to read when they were growing up in Southeast Pakistan. This made it difficult to find steady work and provide for their growing family. So Mohammed took a job as a rickshaw driver, primarily to pay for his children’s educations. It was very important to them that all of their children would grow up with the ability to read and have the opportunity to be prosperous.

When Mohammed’s wife gave birth to their fifth child Sophia, the family was shocked to see she was born with a cleft lip and palate. The little money they had went toward paying for Sophia’s siblings’ educations, and the price of cleft lip and palate surgeries for Sophia was completely unattainable.

As Sophia grew older, she avoided everyone she encountered. When she left the house, she buried her face in her mother’s dress or walked with her hands covering her face. When she was old enough to attend a local school with her siblings, Mohammed said that Sophia was immobilized with fits of anxiety and she refused to leave her home.

At nine-years-old, Sophia had a fortunate encounter at a local market with a representative from local Smile Train partner CLAFT. Dr. Zubair A. Abbasi recalls, “Sophia suffered from psychosocial problems. She was very nervous when we met and she was constantly covering her cleft lip with her hand.” The doctor invited Sophia and her mother to a local clinic and she was approved for her Smile Train sponsored cleft lip and palate surgeries.

SophiaThe surgeries were successful and Sophia got her beautiful smile back. “Sophia was a totally changed girl when I saw her last. She was smiling, did not cover her face, and had complete confidence,” said Dr. Abbasi. Mohammed recently visited the clinic to thank Smile Train and CLAFT. He said that Sophia can freely leave their home and has decided that she is ready to go to school. Now Mohammed’s dream that all of his children will be able to read and have the opportunity to be prosperous is finally a reality.

Gulaab Presents… A Monkey Show!

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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.Gulaab 2

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.


A Long Awaited Smile

Blog post 7.10.2014

Multan, Pakistan—Imagine providing for a family of three living on under seven dollars a day. Unfortunately, this is reality for young Muhammad Zaeem and his family. Muhammad is an only child living with his mother and father in a ‘kachi abadi’ in Pakistan. A ‘kachi abadi’ is an urban settlement in which impoverished people come together to create a makeshift community in order to support each other. Many of the people in these communities cannot read and do not have an adequate supply of resources.

Where Muhammad lives, superstition prevails over science. It is believed that children with a cleft lip are the result of carelessness on the mother’s behalf who, during pregnancy, cut something with a sharp edged knife during an eclipse. While a solution to Muhammad’s cleft was uncertain, his father became hopeful when he saw a Smile Train advertisement on the Bakhtawar Amin Hospital’s billboard.

Muhammad’s parents brought him to see Dr. Amir Hanif at the Bakhtawar Amin Hospital in September 2013. On his first visit Muhammad’s weight and hemoglobin levels were too low to undergo surgery. Dr. Hanif decided to wait four months so Muhammad could become stronger and properly nourished. Muhammad and his parents returned to the hospital in February 2014 and left three days later with Muhammad’s new smile.

The team from the Bakhtawar Amin Hospital visited Muhammad and his family two months later to find great news. Muhammad was living a normal, happy life and was accepted within his community. The family was cheerful and looking forward to the future.

Thankyou Smile Train

This Little Boy’s Smile Will Steal Your Heart

Muhammad before and after

Peshawar, Pakistan—When Muhammad Abdullah was born a little over a year ago his parents’ joy over the birth of their first child was quickly replaced by fear and worry. The newborn baby had arrived with a cleft lip and palate.

“When I was in my first pregnancy I had so many beautiful thoughts about my baby, but when I saw my little baby after birth I was really shocked because this was the first case of cleft in the family,” said Abdullah’s mother. “The second difficult thing that I faced were people’s expressions and their questions about Abdullah, like what happened to him and how it happened.”

In the region of Pakistan surrounding Peshawar, where Abdullah was born, exists many myths about children born with clefts. Many believe that if a pregnant woman works during a moon or sun eclipse that her unborn child will develop a cleft, especially if she is using a knife at the time of the eclipse. As Abdullah was the only one in his family with cleft there was little awareness about the condition to know otherwise.

As with many cleft lip and palate patients Abdullah had some initial difficulty feeding. When the family approached a doctor to help with their child’s malnourishment they were told that their son’s cleft could be repaired and were connected to a plastic surgeon. With the first hurdle of their son’s feeding cleared the new parents were ready to get the surgery required to close the gap in Abdullah’s lip and mouth. As quickly as they overcome one difficulty, they were met with another—the cost of the surgery.The young parents were stuck. Should they get the treatment their son needs, but incure an unpayable debt that would put the family in a financial crisis?

The surgeon shared the name of organization who might be able to help—Smile Train. The couple took to Facebook and were able to connect to the organization, and ultimately to the Smile Train partner hospital who would repair their son’s cleft at no cost to them.

While very nervous on the date of their son’s surgery, the couple was relieved after its completion that they and their son would no longer be the center of attention due to his birth defect. “The smiling face of my son sweeps all my worries away,” said Abdullah’s mother.

“Thanks to Smile Train and the doctors who made my son smile,” she added. “And his parents too. Now we are all happy.”

A Brother’s Love

Naveed Khan, 14, before and after his Smile Train surgery in Pakistan. Naveed deferred his chance for cleft surgery to his sister when a generous landlord offered to help the young boy. Luckily, the family recently found Smile Train and now both siblings have the opportunity to smile.

Naveed Khan, 14, before and after his Smile Train surgery in Pakistan. Naveed deferred his chance for cleft surgery to his sister when a generous landlord offered to help the young boy. Luckily, the family found Smile Train so that both siblings have the opportunity to smile.

Peshawar, Pakistan—Fourteen-year-old Naveed Khan just may be the world’s best brother.

One of two siblings born with cleft, it seemed certain that Naveed and his sister would live the rest of their years without receiving the cleft repair surgeries they needed. The children’s parents, family members, and neighbors knew nothing about clefts. To them it was a curse from God. Even if the family had known that a simple surgery could help the brother and sister, there was no money to provide it.

The siblings were never sent to school and had no friends. Naveed’s sister spent her time in the home helping her mother with cleaning, sweeping, and chores in the kitchen, while Naveed went to work in the fields with his father. They secretly prayed for a miracle.

Soon other villagers became aware of the children’s clefts. Word that the son of a farmhand had an unrepaired cleft lip reached the villagers’ landlord. He quickly offered to sponsor Naveed’s cleft surgery.

Both Naveed and his sister now have their clefts repaired.

Both Naveed and his sister now have their clefts repaired.

Naveed was excited to hear that there was a cure for his misery. Although elated by the words of hope from the landlord, Naveed was also anxious. He told the landlord about his sister and asked if she too could receive surgery. With a heavy heart, the landlord sadly told Naveed and his father that he could not afford to pay for both surgeries.

Naveed decided to sacrifice for his opportunity so that his sister could receive the life-changing surgery first. Naveed told his father that the surgery would more positively impact her life—she could leave the house and eventually get married. Naveed’s sister had the surgery done while his cleft was left unrepaired. Although he was very happy for his sister, Naveed now knew that a smiling life was just one surgery away, but he could not have it.

Last month the family found Smile Train and its free cleft surgery program at Al-Shifa Health Care Center. They wasted no time and rushed to the clinic. Naveed got his free Smile Train surgery done last week and his joy after surgery could not be expressed in words. He is now a happy boy wearing a big smile rather than the scarf he used to cover his face.

In the words of his father, “Naveed got the payback and reward for the sacrifice he made for his sister.”

Cleft Surgery Finds Akhtar

Mohammed Akhtar, left, waves good bye with his father and brothers to the staff from Smile Train partner hospital Bakhtawar Amin Memorial Trust Hospital after their visit to his home.

Mohammed Akhtar, left, waves good bye with his father and brothers to the staff from Smile Train partner hospital Bakhtawar Amin Memorial Trust Hospital after their visit to his home.

Multan, Pakistan—Mohammad Akhtar is a 15-year-old boy who grew up with both a cleft lip and palate. His family lives in a remote area of Pakistan known as Jungle Maryala. This area so isolated that in order to get to the nearest city, Multan, 22 kilometers away, one must either travel by foot or animal-pulled carts—there are no proper roads available to get there.

Mohammad Akhtar, 15, before his cleft lip and palate surgery.

Mohammad Akhtar, 15, before his cleft lip and palate surgery.


Both Aktar’s mother and father are illiterate and had very little awareness about the treatment of cleft lip and palate. Furthermore, as a carpenter, Akhtar’s father was barely able to provide for his wife and eight children, with Akhtar being the only born with a cleft. Due to the family’s poverty, his parents were helpless to address their son’s cleft lip and palate. Akhtar’s mother said that she and her husband worried about Akhtar so much that “they gave him more attention than the other siblings because all others were leading a normal and healthy life.”

One day, a neighbor of Akhtar’s, who often visited Multan, read a billboard advertising Bakhtawar Amin Memorial Trust Hospital’s Smile Train program, providing free cleft lip and palate surgery to patients in need. The hospital was also located in Multan. When he returned home, the neighbor immediately told Akhtar’s father about the treatment. While he was overjoyed to hear about the free treatment as he could not bear the expense of surgery himself, unfortunately Akhtar’s father could also not afford the expense of travel to the hospital. His neighbor then offered provide the father with the carriage he usually used to visit the city.

Akhtar, along with his parents, arrived at the hospital on June 10, 2013 and were welcomed warmly by the staff of the hospital. After the initial checkup, Akhtar was scheduled for surgery two days later. After a successful cleft lip and palate surgery by Dr. Amir Hanif, Akhtar and was discharged on June 15th and returned home.

The team at Bakhtawar Amin visited Akhtar and his family at his home in Jungle Maryala to see Akhtar’s progress since the surgery. His father commented, “Akhtar, having cleft lip and palate problems, was living a very difficult life with an inferiority complex because not only his peer group, but also his siblings, made fun of him.”

The parents were very happy and were thankful to Smile Train as well as Bakhtawar Amin for helping their son when they could not.

After Surgery, Teased No More

Hussain beforeHussain after

Lahore, Pakistan—When five-year-old Hussain’s mother first looked at him when he was born she got faint, overwhelmed with intense grief. She had finally given birth to a son after two daughters, but Hussain was born with a cleft lip and palate. Because of her intense sorrow, the mother was brought to the hospital, but not the newborn.

As Hussain grew he became the victim of ridicule. Often when relatives visited they would bite their fingers with shock and say, “It is better not to have a son instead of having such an offspring.”

Hussain did not play with other boys in the neighborhood because they all teased him. They would touch his cleft lip and laugh. Besides the teasing, Hussain had trouble eating throughout childhood and could only eat food from one side of his mouth and drink with a spoon.

In the hope of helping as many cleft patients as possible, the Smile Train team from Lahore Cleft Centre happened to visit Hussain’s village and found the little boy. They assured Hussain and his parents that he could receive operations to fix both his lip and palate and it would cost the family nothing.

Some neighbors tried to convince Hussain’s father not to let the Smile Train surgeons operate on his son incorrectly telling him, “They will take a muscle flap and flesh from one side of Hussain’s body and will graft it over the lip, which would be risky.” Trusting Smile Train and the surgeons though, Hussain’s father brought his son to Lahore Cleft Centre. The operation was successful and afterwards the staff assured Hussain and his parents that he would never again be an object of jest and fun. He would never again hear: “Oh see! The hole boy is coming.”

Hussain is now a happy little boy and his palate will also be repaired in six months.