October 1, 2014
As told by Alison Smyth, Operation Smile Volunteer
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I was greeted by Dest and Rosoa outside their rural village in Ambodijara, Madagascar, on a hot, summer day in late August — several weeks prior to Operation Smile’s medical mission in Tamatave. I was there to meet two of the couple’s precious daughters, 6-year-old Vaviroa and 2-year-old Nambinina — both born with a cleft — and document what would become a life-changing experience for the two girls and their family.
As we walked through the isolated village, neatly tucked in a valley of rolling hills about a 40-minute walk from the nearest dirt road, I couldn’t help but think how incredibly beautiful our surroundings were: Huge, tropical trees with bright green leaves. A remarkably blue, cloudless sky. One-room houses crafted entirely from palm trees. Children playing, curiously following our every move, while their parents worked diligently on daily chores.
We approached the couple’s humble home and were greeted by Vaviroa and Nambinina — both smiling and anxiously awaiting our introduction. The sisters were shy yet serious, and from the beginning their devotion and love for each other were obvious.
Dest and Rosoa were devastated when their second daughter, Vaviroa, was born with a cleft lip. Both had seen a baby with a cleft lip in a nearby village but never imagined it could happen to one of their own children. They didn't understand why Vaviroa was born with a deformity while their first daughter Resoanta’s mouth was perfect. They thought Vaviroa's cleft was their fault - their destiny.
When Vaviroa reached 6 weeks old, the family walked three hours to the nearest hospital for her required vaccinations. To their surprise, they learned that surgery to repair her cleft lip was possible, but they also knew they could never afford it.
Several years passed. Fortunately, Vaviroa had no difficulty feeding despite her cleft, and was a strong, healthy baby. But when Vaviroa was 4 1/2 , Rosoa gave birth to their third daughter, Nambinina.
Nambinina also had a cleft lip.
Rosoa and Dest couldn’t understand why this was happening to their family. They wanted nothing more than to provide for their daughters and help them live a normal life like the other children in the village. But with two little girls with cleft lips, Rosoa could hardly bear to look at the other mothers with their babies and their perfect mouths — and she became deeply depressed.
In 2013, the couple learned about an Operation Smile medical mission that would help children like Vaviroa and Nambinina in Antananarivo, the capital city, about a 12 hour journey from their village. They were devastated to realize that they had no money for the transportation to get them there. They feared that they had missed their only chance to get their daughters surgery.
In August this year, Rosoa and Dest were overjoyed to learn that Operation Smile was coming back to Madagascar in September — in Tamatave, the nearest major city about 170 miles away. Neither Dest nor Rosoa had ever been to the big city, and both were terrified to travel there. Nevertheless, they knew this was their best chance to change their beloved daughters’ lives forever — to give them beautiful smiles like all the other children in their village.
When the family arrived at the medical mission in Tamatave, they were visibly nervous — anxious to learn whether the two girls would receive surgery.
I was there when the two were notified: the girls would both receive surgery. And I was there when the girls were brought to their parents — with bright, beautiful new smiles. In that moment, I understood that I was blessed to witness how these children's lives were changed by supporters from around the world, like you, whom they would never meet.
These two beautiful girls weren’t the only patients to receive new smiles last week. The dedicated team of Operation Smile medical volunteers were able to provide 166 medical evaluations and 119 surgeries to children who desperately needed us. Each and every one of them can now look forward to a better, brighter future — all because of compassionate, generous people like you.
Please take a look at some of our inspiring photos from Madagascar below, and take pride in knowing you make this all possible.
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