Dr. Esther Njoroge Power Of A Smile

IMG_4364 (2)Dr. Esther Nyambura Njoroge, Regional Director, Smile Train Africa talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her.

What first inspired you to work at Smile Train?
I studied medicine so I would be able to work for an organization that transform children’s lives. When I read about Smile Train’s work in Africa I knew that was where I wanted to be. Working with Smile Train helps me change the world, in my own small way.

How has your involvement with Smile Train made you look at the Power Of A Smile differently?
We take a lot of life’s gifts for granted.  Meeting and interacting with patients born with cleft lip and/or palate has made me appreciate my ability to smile. A smile is like an invitation to invite someone into your life. Giving cleft patients the power to interact with their community is a gift like no other.

What keeps you involved in Smile Train?
I wake up every day with purpose and go to bed every night satisfied that I have changed a life forever. I love when I see the joy in a mother’s eyes the moment they see their child after surgery—I’m so grateful to Smile Train for allowing me be a part of a miracle.

22 Years of Fear

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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.

Allo Now Allo says he wants to repay Smile Train and WECCARE’s  wonderful gift of a new smile by going back to school and becoming an advocate for children with cleft lip and palate living in Chad.

Flowering Hope for Lavender

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When Lena gave birth to her daughter Lavender, the whispers about the infant’s cleft lip spread quickly throughout their tiny village of Masindet, Kenya.  As neighbors lined up to see the baby, Lena was devastated when she overheard someone saying, “Babies like this shouldn’t exist.”

The family struggled to raise the funds for cleft surgery for more than a year. Lena’s stress and disappointment boiled over during a family argument – she decided to leave the family and run away. Now alone with Lavender, her father knew that he needed help so he asked his mother Irene for support.

Irene fortunately knew that surgery could correct Lavender’s unrepaired cleft lip because her cousin also had a cleft. She told her son that Lavender’s condition was nothing to be embarrassed of. “Stop questioning why Lavender was born with a cleft lip, it is just something that happens, and it can be repaired,” she said.

After asking around, Irene found Smile Train partner, IcFEM Dreamland Mission Hospital and made an appointment for Lavender. On surgery day, the route to the hospital was only accessible by walking so she carried Lavender more than 16 miles through muddy and hilly terrain.

After the surgery, Irene was very happy with the results. “The surgery has made the future of my granddaughter bright,” she says. Irene left the hospital, promising to testify about the miracles being performed at IcFEM Dreamland Mission Hospital. Irene said her next task was to track down Lena in hopes of Lavender’s parents reconciling and raising their child together.

Lavander post op female Kimilili Kenya copy

School For Tuhaise

Tuhaise 1Tuhaise was born in a remote village in Kibale, Uganda. As soon as his mother and father saw his cleft lip, they left the village and abandoned him. When his Aunt Maimuna heard this horrible news, she went to see her nephew. “I immediately connected to Tuhaise and decided to take him in; I had little money and many children to take care of, but Tuhaise needed a mother,” she recalled.

Tuhaise 2

Maimuna is a subsistence farmer on a small piece of land. She knew that cleft surgery was available at the regional hospital, but thought she would never be able to afford it. Years went by and the young boy remained at home while his cousins attended school. Maimuna said, “It was heartbreaking to see little Tuhaise suffering from rejection in the village, my children would ask me to take him to the tailor shop to have his lip ‘sewed’ so that he could look normal.”

Fortunately, Smile Train partner CoRSU hospital was running a community mobilization campaign near their village to sensitize people about accepting disabilities. Maimuna met with the hospital staff; she knew it could be her only chance to have Tuhaise medically attended to. With a few clothes in her bag, she left home and headed to CoRSU.

tuhaise 4With funding from Smile Train, Tuhaise received his new smile and Maimuna could not stop singing words of praise to the people who made her nephew’s new smile possible. She recently reported that, “Tuhaise is no longer an object of ridicule in the village, he will go to school with my other children very soon.”

 

Cleft Surgery’s Role in Nutrition

Three-month-old Alham (left) shortly before her Smile Train surgery and five-month-old Alham two months after. Alham's story highlights the need for cleft surgery in order to obtain proper nutrition.

Three-month-old Alham (left) shortly before her Smile Train surgery and five-month-old Alham two months after. Alham’s story highlights the need for cleft surgery in order to obtain proper nutrition.

Tanga, TanzaniaIn honor of National Nutrition Month, Smile Train shares a story from Tanzania highlighting the role that timely cleft surgery plays in preventing malnutrition.

When Ahlam was born in rural Tanzania with a cleft lip and palate, her mother Salha, like so many mothers of Smile Train patients, did not know about the common birth defect. Salha’s first two children had been born without incident and perfectly healthy.

Salha and her five-month-old daughter Ahlam pose three months after Ahlam's cleft surgery. Ahlam's health and appearance have vastly improved thanks to her cleft surgery that has allowed her to eat properly.

Salha and her five-month-old daughter Ahlam pose three months after Ahlam’s cleft surgery. Ahlam’s health and appearance have vastly improved thanks to her cleft surgery that has allowed her to eat properly.

Luckily, shortly after Ahlam’s birth, the family was told about Smile Train and that the organization provided free care for thousands of children like Ahlam. The newborn girl would have to wait until she was three months old for surgery though.

During that time life for Salha was difficult. She had no problem feeding her other children, but Ahlam was different because of her cleft. Milk came out of Ahlam’s mouth and nose because she could not suck like a normal infant. With a large gap in her lip and at the roof of her mouth, feeding Ahlam was almost impossible.

Although surgery was a short time away, Salha worried her daughter would not make it. She was not steadily gaining weight and was becoming sick. Despite this, Ahlam’s surgery day came and weighed just enough to go through with surgery.Now at five months old, only two months after her cleft lip surgery, Ahlam’s appearance and health bear no resemblance to the baby girl who entered the hospital for cleft surgery. Not only does she have a new smile, but she has the chubby cheeks of other children her age. The difference is remarkable.

In four months Ahlam will undergo another surgery to correct her cleft palate, which should help her nutrition further as food can still escape through the roof of her mouth. Salha is also looking forward to her daughter’s next surgery and feels this will improve her health even more.

Salha is very grateful for the Smile Train surgery and is happy that her child will have a normal and healthy life.

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To help mothers like Salha, Smile Train developed the following resource video demonstrating the best feeding methods for a child with cleft.