A Passion for Malagasy Smiles
True passion is a rare and precious thing. In the case of Andriarimalala Solo Radaoroson, his passion for Operation Smile’s work in Madagascar changed not only his life, but numerous other lives as well.
Mr. Lala, as he is affectionately known, had never witnessed a cleft condition until his daughter, Laly, was born with a cleft lip.
“I had heard about it as a boy, but I was very sad when she was born as I had never thought it could happen to her,” Lala said.
He admitted that her condition was difficult to manage, as she seemed to fall ill more often than other children. He feared she would not live long.
However, when Laly was nearly 2 years old, he heard a radio announcement regarding an Operation Smile medical mission to Tamatave in September 2015. After travelling nearly 400 kilometers by bus, Laly was selected for and underwent surgery. The free procedure proved to be a defining moment for Lala and his family.
“There is no word to describe our happiness,” he said. “She was finally like everyone else.”
Upon returning home to his village, Lala found himself aflame with a desire to tell more people about the life-changing surgeries Operation Smile provides for patients in Madagascar.
“When I saw all the people with this problem, I decided to tell everyone that there is an organization that does this work,” he said enthusiastically. “Many people think I am a liar at first and trying to lure them into something strange, but eventually, they accept me.”
This indomitable spirit persuaded 33 patients from Lala’s district to travel to the Antananarivo medical mission in April 2016. Twenty-one of these adults and children were scheduled for surgery while the others will be assisted at upcoming missions.
Lala visits families around his district either on his bicycle or in the course of his work as a builder. He admitted this commitment means he’s not able to earn as much as he would if he were working full time. However, after his daughter received surgery, he wanted to bring the same happiness to people affected by cleft conditions in his district.
Lala follows a three-step process, beginning by showing them pre- and post-operation images of Laly. He then attempts to convince them that a transformation like his daughter’s is possible and finally explains that this surgery will cost them nothing.
One of the patients who Lala impacted is Fidelis, a shy 8-year-old who loves to play soccer but clings close to his mother. She found hope for her son when Lala visited them and explained how Operation Smile could help.
“People, especially children, tease him and so he often runs away from school as he cannot bear the teasing,” she said. “We didn’t know it could be fixed until Mr. Lala came and showed us the pictures. Now we are so happy that our son will live a normal life.”
Lala has no plans to slow down his search for potential Operation Smile patients.
“I am not going to stop,” he said. “Once I have finished with my district I will move on to the next one. I want Malagasy people to know Operation Smile can help them.”
Editor's Note: Mr. Lala delivered on his promise again when he brought 57 patients and their families to the September 2016 Antsirabe medical mission. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.