‘What Have You Done to Have a Baby Like This?’
Lani Pascua looks exhausted as she holds her 4-year-old daughter, Hachelyn, close to her. They have travelled by tricycle, bus and lorry to make it to Cauayan City in plenty of time for the start of Operation Smile’s medical mission in the Philippines.
Mother's Determination Helps Child Smile
Miguel Sosa and his mother Yeshiva traveled three hours to come to the medical mission site in Asuncion, Paraguay in hopes that Miguel could receive surgery on his unilateral cleft lip.
A Life-Changing Journey for Two Sisters
When we first met Vaviroa and Nambina on our medical mission to Tamatave, Madagascar, the six- and two-year-old sisters shyly hid behind their parents and barely said a word. Years of bullying taught these young girls that the world didn’t want to see their smiles. But that all changed this past fall, when Vaviroa and Nambina both received surgeries to fix their clefts.
There’s No Limit to a Smile
Volunteering with Operation Smile has made me a different person. My experience began four years ago during Operation Smile’s first medical mission in Guatemala. Since then, I consider myself part of the Operation Smile family, part of a team of medical and non-medical volunteers who aim to change lives around the world.
Mother of Twins Anxiously Waits
A mother and father brought their twins to the February 2015 medical mission in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Their son, Donari, has a unilateral cleft lip, and their daughter, Katherine, has a bilateral cleft lip and palate.
Perception Is Reality
The recent flood of interest in the “blue and black” versus the “white and gold” dress has a message that is far more important than what colors you are perceiving. The stark truth is that “Perception is Reality.” All human beings see things differently, even if they are looking at the same thing.
An update from Honduras
Jordi Baron highlights the first two days of an Operation Smile medical mission in Honduras.
"I Wasn't Expecting That News"
A corporate donor volunteers on a medical mission. He documents his experience through a story about a patient he met who was unable to receive surgery this time.
So Full of Life, So Full of Fear
Háo was a just 3 years old – full of life, and his parents full of fear. They had spent two-and-a-half times more than their monthly income to travel to the medical mission site in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for the Operation Smile 25th Anniversary mega medical mission. His young parents exhausted all of their savings, just for the chance that Háo would be able to receive surgery for his cleft lip.
A Brave Young Boy in Ethiopia
Birhand told me he had been bullied by a lot of the kids back home and that the torments made him very angry. He would lash out at the younger kids by biting and chasing them, making sure they never made fun of him again. I could tell he wasn't proud of his reaction. He longed to fit in.
In Malawi, a Second Chance at a New Life
When Chisomo was only 2 weeks old, Christina and Viktor brought their son to Kamuzu Central Hospital, hoping Operation Smile could help their tiny infant during that surgical mission.
A Chance Encounter Gave Sun Hao a New Smile
Three-year-old Sun Hao’s family knew Operation Smile was in Ziyang, China, did not bring him to our screening day because they thought they would have to pay for their son’s cleft lip surgery.
It wasn’t until our team ate dinner at a family friend’s restaurant that their assumption about our medical mission was corrected.
Turned Away from Surgery, Not from Hope
I noticed there were many other tiny, malnourished babies with cleft lip and cleft palate. But at the same time, I saw other babies with chubby little thighs and big, sweet cheeks. I wondered why there was such a difference between these babies who suffered from similar medical conditions.
Connected Though a Look, a Hug
Despite the difficult year, Leslie has never given up in her determination to help Thiagu. While looking for healthcare options for his bilateral cleft lip, her doctor recommended Operation Smile's international clinic in Lima. She arrived at 5 a.m. this morning, hopeful that her son's life might take a turn for the better.
An Unlikely Friendship
Just as Luke was called in to the Operating Room for surgery, she turned to me and said, “This procedure has been tested, right?” I assured her that her son is in the best hands and everything will be great. With tears in her eyes, Priscilla mumbled, “It is my dream for him.”
What Makes It All Worth It
To know that you’ve somehow, someway, enhanced someone’s life makes it worth it. To share exhaustion with everyone on the team, everyone who is working together to change the world through a child’s smile – that makes it all worth it.
Left Alone, A Chance at a New Life
Liu Shuquan was abandoned by his parents directly after birth because of his two birth defects: a cleft lip and palate. Unfortunately, this act is not uncommon in China. Liu’s mother said she found him a few days after birth on the side of the road.
A Mother's Persistence
Luisa María and Darisleidy traveled to Operation Smile’s Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic mission site. They have been here three times previously. This was their fourth visit, and Luisa María had determination in her eyes.
From Helplessness to Hope
When she first held her baby and saw her upper lip incomplete, she felt helpless – “Why was my baby born like this?”
After 46 years, a chance at a new life
Kaza dreamed of the thought that perhaps he would be granted a lifelong wish of a curing his cratered countenance, of sculpting a symmetrical smile, of the chance to say sounds such as “p,” “b” and “m” from his lopsided lips.
Milestone in India
The Guwahati Cleft Care Center is pleased to announce the 11,000th cleft patient since the first medical mission in Assam in early 2009.
For a Student, Child and Mother: A New Chapter of Life
Nahomi has lived with an unrepaired cleft lip and cleft palate for 15 months. Today she will finally receive cleft lip surgery that will allow her to go to school one day, be accepted by her peers, and build the self-confidence that truly matches her inner spirit and beauty.
A Grandmother's Chance to Help Change her Granddaughter's Life
“Seeing Dina before was like a light was missing from her eyes, but being here surrounded by children and adults who have struggled through similar situations has added a new spark to her,” her grandmother said. “I have never seen her this alive.”
A Second Chance at Surgery
When Muhumin’s mother Rachia brought her shy, sweet little boy to our medical mission in Tamale last July, she was devastated to learn that her son was too weak for us to provide safe surgery.
But Muhumin’s journey didn't end there.
A Young Patient Comforts Waiting Families
While mothers and fathers waiting nervously for their child to come out of the OR, one young patient eased their minds by telling them about his experience just a day earlier.
In Rwanda, Baby Challone gets a new smile
A baby with a cleft in a small village was seen as bad luck. But with the help of Operation Smile, the baby's mother can't wait to show off her son to the village and the world.
Reuniting three years later
A Norwegian TV station recently posted a story about Talita, an animated and lively little girl form Brazil who underwent cleft lip surgery at 3 years old.
Ian gets a new family, a new smile
At six months old, Ian has already lived an unimaginably tough life. Ian was severely malnourished and nearly helpless until one couple saw him as the world’s greatest gift.
Lakshmi's Story: "I waited for 45 years"
45 year old Lakshmi lived his entire life thinking his cleft was permanent. When he heard that an Operation Smile medical mission was coming to a nearby town, he was skeptical but took a chance and traveled to the mission site in hopes of life changing surgery.
Holding Hands and Hearts
These children brought tears to all of our eyes, because despite the neglect or cruelty that many had endured due to their facial deformities, they remained full of energy and excited for their new smiles. It is this room that I came upon the most beautiful smile I had every seen with or without a cleft lip.
Reya is a happy, curious, and beautiful little girl. Despite her wonderful smile, she has extra cause to be weary of the world, a cleft lip and palate have made the world a not-so-beautiful place for Reya and her family.
A mother’s prayers … answered.
It all started with a normal pregnancy - a planned pregnancy. I was punctual with vitamin intake, I received proper prenatal care, I don´t drink, I don´t smoke ... I don´t remember doing anything that could have led to my child being born with a cleft.
Left to Die - One child's journey to a new life
While screening patients for the upcoming week of surgery, a nun from a local orphanage brought a toddler with a cleft lip and palate to to my station to see if we could put him on our surgery schedule. She explained that he'd been found abandoned on a trash heap outside of Quito...
My Bolivian Boys
Wonderful things happened during the following days of surgery. I got to observe and participate in opportunities being created for all these children. I stayed with Hermando through his whole ordeal, from admission to the hospital to walking him out the door. He looked fantastic as he walked away with his uncle. I know his future is changing.
Diagam was born with a single cleft lip, something of which the family had never seen before. Children with such deformities are often shunned from going to school and are hidden away. These children carry a burden much greater than their tiny shoulders are able to bare.
Renuka Ghatowar is like any other nine-year-old girl: intelligent, playful, and ready to love anyone and everyone. However, unlike most other nine-year-olds, Renuka has had to fight for love, for a caring family, and for a fair life.
Jean and his family live quite a distance from the main road from Kigali, so his father guided us for several hours along a very rocky trail until we reached their village. As soon as I introduced myself and extended my hand for a quick shake, Jean opened up his arms and gave me a huge hug.
Imagine bacteria slowly ravaging your baby's face. When Rafaela Pena Mateo was only 8 months old, a bacteria called noma destroyed her nose and palate.
Beautiful 3-year-old Yitci immediately caught our eye on screening day during the recent medical mission in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Luis Oscar's Story
Luis Oscar is a gorgeous ten-month-old, orphaned at two-weeks-old. He was abandoned because of his cleft palate. He lives in an orphanage, and was brought to the medical mission by a child protection worker in hopes of life-changing surgery.
U-Voice Student Alise Bailey meets a special little girl named Stephanie on a medical mission in Bolivia.
“I saw the people stare at my baby when we left the hospital,” recalls Whanda. “They would not stop. I knew then that I needed to love my baby enough for everyone else. Because no one else would love her but me and my husband.”
“The first day I saw my baby I was scared. And then I was ashamed.” Marcela looks at the ground and scuffs a sandal in the sun-baked earth. “Of your baby?” I ask gently. “Of me,” she replies.
When little Karl was born, his mother, Khenzel, was devastated by his cleft lip.
Like so many parents whose children are born with severe clefts, Samuel’s father Abraham felt like his child had been cursed.
“I cry sometimes and blame myself for what happened to my daughter,” said Shaina’s mother, Rowena.
Sometimes medical mission volunteers are able to help resolve other abnormalities children might have, children like Anas.
Her parents waited anxiously for the surgery schedules to be posted… First Monday’s schedule was posted, then Tuesday’s, Thursday’s, and Friday’s and still Arianna’s name was not there. And then … Wednesdays’ schedule was posted. There was Arianna’s name!
Sometimes, all you need to know is that things will be OK. That other people have been through this before. That you’re not alone.
There’s that one moment that turns you at your core. You remember that no matter what speed your world seems to be moving, this journey is worth every second.
Jean and Shawn learned that their daughter, Maia was not going to be the perfectly formed baby that they hoped for when an ultrasound taken during the sixth month of her pregnancy showed that the baby’s mouth was broken.
A mother's heartfelt thanks as her daughter's life is changed forever. 'From the bottom of my heart I would like to say thank you for making my daughter Jinden Juriz a very beautiful girl right now … this is the most wonderful gift I have ever had.'
15 months after surgery, seven-year-old Sarban is healthy, attends school and has many more friends who he loves to play with – one of their favorite games is to run races, which he usually wins.
Ngan dreams of becoming a teacher and bringing education to other children in the province. Her dream is a result of the gift of free surgery she received as a little girl.
Milahlale's mothers hope for her daughter is that she continue learning at school and university so that she can grow up to be a social worker. Miahlale wants to help young children and teach them how to love themselves regardless of the way they look.
When Abduhelil was born with a cleft lip, both parents were unhappy and uncertain of their son’s future.
“I was afraid. I did not want to draw any attention to myself and I didn’t think people would understand.”
Chadleen always dreamed that she would become a singer one day, but she had trouble speaking and smiling, let alone singing, because she was born with a cleft palate.
Khensani “Gives Thanks”
Our first encounter with little Khensani Rathokolo was in November 2011 at the Klerksdorp Mission. Even at 10 months old he was already bright-eyed and inquisitive of the strange and uninvited faces smiling at him.
Wearing a pair of bright red flip-flops that were three times the size of his feet, Kevin caught my attention as he stood against the wall at the hospital...
Tsesron walked for the very first time the day before his life changing Operation Smile surgery in Madagascar! An important developmental milestone for children with cleft lip and cleft palate.
“I would like to thank each one of you, with all my heart, because you’ve made my dream come true. My life has totally changed.”
There are always giggly babies on medical missions – and Tafita definitely fit the bill.
Minda and Ruben never expected that their sixth child would be born with a huge hole in her lip.
José Villegas' two-pound tumor devastated his life. Three years in a row, he gave up his place on the surgery schedule so another, younger child could have surgery, a selfless act that changed his life forever.
Adeline’s mother traveled a full day by bus to take her daughter to the medical mission site with the hope that the cleft lip she was born with would finally be repaired.
When Diana was born with a cleft lip, her mother couldn’t bear to look at her face.
The love from a father can certainly transcend all cultural environments. It varies from every individual’s perspective and initial ideology of what a father’s love truly is.
Even though he was born with a severe cleft lip, the smile in Daniel’s heart beamed through his twinkling eyes.
When Rafiqul was born with a severe cleft lip, his parents were devastated. They could never hope to make enough money for the surgery their baby needed.
Ana came into the world with eyes that sparkled with intelligence and humor, but she couldn’t smile, because she was also born with a severe cleft lip.
Heartbroken and with no hope of being able to afford the surgery Reepok needed, his mother agonized for nine desperate months until she heard about Operation Smile.
When Moraes was eight months old, her mother heard about the Operation Smile medical mission in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Before surgery, Daisy was laughed at and teased at school. It wasn't until Daisy was six years old, that her parents learned her cleft lip and cleft palate could be repaired.
When our medical team in Guwahati first met Bismita, she was only 24 days old and extremely malnourished due to her cleft lip and cleft palate. They worried about her survival.
Diosmairy was born in the Dominican Republic with hypertelorism, an abnormal separation of the orbits characterized by space between her eyes, and a craniofacial cleft.
Rogerio is one of five siblings, and the second child in his family to be born with a cleft lip or cleft palate in Brazil.
Francisco was born into poverty with a cleft lip and cleft palate. His family struggled to understand their child’s condition.
Lucas' father was also born with cleft lip and didn't want his son to endure the lifetime of shame and rejection that he knew firsthand.
Abandoned by both her parents, Maria faced incomprehensible pain during her first five years of life in Brazil.
Eleven-year-old Marceline is a bright girl with beautiful eyes. But to others in her village, she's an outcast and cursed because of her cleft lip.
3-year-old Guo, who had a cleft lip operation in 2009 and a palate repair in 2010, returned to Lincang in 2011 with his mother for his final surgery.
Fernanda Oliva cannot hear her name or the sound of laughter - she was born deaf. Fernanda was also born with a cleft lip that marred her sweet smile.
When Sebastian's mother Daniela got pregnant, she was ecstatic. But her joy turned to shock when her baby was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Daniela was wracked with guilt.
To her heartbroken mother, Lisha's facial deformity was a terrible curse. She knew how her girl would suffer. That she would be an outcast ' and probably never marry.
Karen Nicol was the apple of her father's eye. But when others looked at his baby girl, they only saw the cleft lip and cleft palate she was born with.
The cleft lip Fu Yun was born with made eating and speaking difficult. Other children laughed at her and made her cry.
Jacqueline is a beautiful 12-year-old girl with a sweet personality. But she was born with a cleft lip that made every day of her life torture.
Born into severe poverty with a cleft lip and cleft palate, Rahul could have been doomed to suffer a lifetime of rejection, scorn and isolation.
Pelón, Eberto and Mariano
Pelón, Eberto and Mariano were brought by an elderly community leader from a very small town. The boys were nervous to leave their homes, but all three received new smiles.
The 81-year-old mother of four, and grandmother of more than 20, left her home in Gi Khana village in Treang province with the hopes of finally restoring her smile.
Lokhi, a wonderfully outgoing 15 year boy, arrived for surgery with his father. Lokhi is one of six children from a remote village and has lived with a very wide cleft lip all of his life.
Grace has five brothers and sisters and is the youngest and only one of her siblings born with a cleft lip. When Grace was born, her mother was blamed for her deformity.
Neil was born with a rare deformity called Encephalocele in the Philippines. Operation Smile Australia changed his life - and gave him a chance for a bright future.
As a little girl Chadleen dreamed of being a singer, but she couldn't even speak because of her cleft palate.
Bikash, 12, lives on a tea plantation in India. He lost both his parents to an unknown fever.
Adel's speech was so hindered by his cleft palate, his mother was worried his teacher would not graduate Adel to the first grade.
Thu was just a baby when she came to the Operation Smile medical mission in Vung Tau with her mom.
Maria Vitoria & Maria Vivian
The mother of these twins knew she had to do something when her baby girls were born. Both had severe cleft lips and cleft palates, marring their sweet faces.
When Thailer's mother first set eyes on her child, she was filled with happiness'and then shock.
Bryan had trouble eating and drinking, and they were too poor to do anything about his deformity.
Because of Ibrahim's deformity, he grew up with no friends and his parents felt terrible guilt.
When Eimy was born, she had a terrible cleft lip and cleft palate that went all the way up into both nostrils.
Danila was born beautiful and perfect - except for a jagged tear in her upper lip that became the central focus of her life.
When Molyny was just 29 days old, she was abandoned at a missionary center by her family.
Born into severe poverty with a cleft lip, Soline struggled constantly with shame and self-consciousness.
Realyn was lucky she didn't have to grow up marred by the terrible facial deformity with which she was born.
Due to extreme poverty, Jempson never had any chance of getting surgery for the cleft lip he was born with.
Maiquin lived with his facial deformity for three years because his parents couldn't afford the surgeries he desperately needed.
Three-year-old Miraya traveled 14 hours by bus with her mother to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, hoping to be selected for reconstructive surgery to correct her cleft lip.
Divith's mother knew his future would be painful, but felt helpless to save him.
While watching the news on television, Svetlana's mother saw that Operation Smile was conducting a mission in Novosibirsk, Russia, and she knew this was her daughter's chance.
John Maina was a street child from Thika, a town near to Nairobi, where an Operation Smile Medical Mission was taking place.
Born with a cleft lip and a cleft palate, Thais' parents knew nothing of such facial deformities, nor could they have ever afforded treatment.
Ammulu was born with a severe facial deformity that made eating and drinking difficult.
David's mother worried he wouldn't live because he had trouble eating and drinking.
Being part of the Karen Hiltribe in Myanmar had already given this sweet girl the lowest social status in a desparately poor country.
This precious girl endured ridicule and stares from others for 7 years.
As Kupaw grew older, he became increasingly self-conscious about his facial deformity.
Born with a cleft lip, Jamila's appearance was initially a shock to her mother.
For 13 years, Jhuma lived with shame and humiliation as other children teased her cruelly.
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