Enok's Path

Patient Stories

He Had a Smile No One Wanted to See

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. We're helping front-line health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

Enok remembers being jeered, mocked, chased by packs of children and having people recoil at the sight of his cleft lip.

While his memories echo the stories of thousands of Operation Smile patients – most young children – Enok had already endured a lifetime of torment when he received surgery at 25 years old.

Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Suffering from a severe bilateral cleft lip, Enok finally summoned the courage to seek help during an Operation Smile medical mission to Rwanda in 2013.

Even then, Enok was reluctant to receive surgery.

It was on a visit to his village that Operation Smile volunteers showed him that this was his chance at a brighter future.

Volunteer pre- and post-operative nurse Maria Dahlin of Sweden screens Enok during a 2013 medical mission in Rwanda. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Volunteer pre- and post-operative nurse Maria Dahlin of Sweden screens Enok during a 2013 medical mission in Rwanda. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

“If they were not here to convince me, I wouldn’t be able to temper going into a bar and sitting with other people and sharing a cup,” Enok said. “But now I can enter into any place and people even come to share the cup with me.”

Enok five years after surgery. Photo: Jacob Watson.
Enok five years after surgery. Photo: Jacob Watson.

Since Enok’s surgery, his life has irrevocably changed.

Though his surgical scars are almost invisible to the naked eye, his emotional scars continue to heal as this soft-spoken man recalled the daily struggles he once faced. 

“I walk to work from my home, and before the surgery, I would take all sorts of detours and creep through people’s gardens and farms so that I could avoid being seen,” Enok explained as he walked through lush green vistas on his way home from the bakery at which he works. “Children would either run away if they saw me or run behind shouting horrible things.”

Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

It’s hard to believe that Enok’s walks of shame ever occurred, because today, he walks with confidence and constantly stops to greet yet another friend or pass along the latest news and gossip with a neighbor.

People called his nickname throughout the walk; and when they yelled, “Bibi,” it wasn’t hard to detect notes of affection and pride in the tone.

“Even young kids would get frightened when they saw me,” Enok said. “But nowadays, I'm a normal person in the community. I meet people and they talk to me like they would someone who has been there the whole time.”

When Enok mentioned being “there the whole time,” he referred to being cruelly ostracized and made to feel as if he didn’t exist before the surgery.

At home, his mother hovered in the background, ever-protective of her seventh child and confirmed this misery.

Enok shares a special moment with his mother, Nyiramafahasheri. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Enok shares a special moment with his mother, Nyiramafahasheri. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

“Whenever I was going somewhere with Enok, young kids would run away because they thought he would bite them,” Enok's mom said. “I kept hoping and praying that God would help him. When it happened, I praised God for it because it was an answer to my dreams. It was done perfectly, and he is really new as he says.”

Since receiving surgery, Enok has enjoyed a more fulfilling experience working at the bakery as well.

“I have regained respect from my community, including my boss and colleagues, because before, I was less considered and working in a way isolated from the rest,” Enok said.

Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

There is a confidence around the baker and, together with his mother, he’s become an advocate for Operation Smile’s work in Rwanda.

They’ve even gone so far as to track down a nearby resident and friend, Veronica, who has a cleft lip and encourage her to seek surgery.

“She is afraid for now, but we are trying to convince her,” Enok said. “As for the good things that have happened to me and changed me to a new person, if I meet someone with the same problem, I would advise him or her to go to see the doctor and find out if there is any opportunity for surgery.”

Today, the man who once skirted through people's gardens to avoid the eyes of his neighbors now walks with confidence and feels eager to show his community the kind of person he's always been. 

“Before, everyone was scared of me. I couldn’t stand and talk to a girl, but now I can easily find a girl on the roadside and stand for a while and talk to her,” Enok explained with a smile on his face.

Now, seven years after receiving surgery, Enok has built a new and beautiful life for himself. He's fallen in love and created a family of his own.

Today, Enok walks along the brighter path that lies ahead.

Help us keep our promise to more patients like Enok amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Your support today means we can help them through these uncertain times and provide them with the surgery they deserve when it's safe to resume our work around the world.

Enok and his wife smile widely at their child. Photo: Jacob Watson.
Enok and his wife smile widely at their child. Photo: Jacob Watson.