After 10 years of sharing shy glances and kind smiles with a woman named Alice, Alfred gathered up his courage and told her parents that he hoped to marry her one day.
Today, Alfred and Alice have three children together and earn a living by farming rice, cassava and vegetables on a plot of land. Their journey as a family has been filled with unconditional love.
But life together hasn’t always been easy.
Born with a cleft condition, 52-year-old Alfred became familiar with the pain of being treated differently. Alice and Alfred both got upset when members of their community would call him “cleftie” or “sima,” a derogatory term for cleft.
Yet, Alice never saw Alfred retaliate against his bullies. He shared that the reason he refused to fight back was because he believed his cleft lip was how God made him. Up until he was in his 30s, Alfred thought there wasn’t anything he could do to change his appearance.
When a man working for a nonprofit (unaffiliated with Operation Smile) came to his village, Alfred discovered that surgery was possible. He journeyed from his home, completing a 4-hour walk and a 2-hour bus ride, to reach the hospital in the nearest town. But after hearing what the total cost of care would be, Alfred knew affording surgery was beyond his family’s means.
Alfred lived a life full of love and would try to greet people with kindness and a bright smile despite the pain he endured living with an untreated cleft condition for more than 50 years. As a husband, father and farmer, Alfred believed he’d experienced the most he could out of life.
But little did he know there was something greater headed his way.
In 2018, Operation Smile Madagascar patient advocates Fidelis and Bao traveled into remote communities of the country searching for patients born with cleft lip and cleft palate.
Fidelis, a father whose son had received a new smile from the organization, approached Alfred and told him about Operation Smile, explaining that volunteers could provide him with the same life-changing care. Encouraged by Fidelis’ story, Alfred and his family traveled to Antsirabe with the hope of receiving cleft surgery.
“I am very grateful to Operation Smile,” Alfred said. “Not just for me, but for all the people with cleft in Madagascar.”
Alfred spent his days after surgery eager to share his experience. He tells anyone who will listen about how Operation Smile and the organization's passionate volunteers changed his life. Alfred’s brother, Rosafrederis, was also born with a cleft condition. According to Alfred, his brother is shy and was scared to make the journey with him to Antsirabe. Alfred hopes Rosafrederis will see his new smile and feel ready to travel to a future Operation Smile program where he too might receive surgery.
More than anyone, Alfred’s family understands the impact his new smile has had on him.
For most of their lives, Alice witnessed how painful the teasing was for Alfred. Today, she shares in the joy Alfred feels since undergoing surgery. With the support of his family and the team at Operation Smile Madagascar, Alfred is ready to start living the life he always deserved.
“Thank you, Operation Smile,” Alfred said. “Please continue your work.”
Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. Once again, we’re providing surgery and in-person care while taking stringent measures to keep families safe. Hope is on the horizon. And we remain focused on what cleft care makes possible for children, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live with confidence.