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South Africa

A Stranger's Kindness

Photo: Zute Lightfoot

At 31 years old, Ephraim is proud of the life he has built for his family. He and his girlfriend, Ldaudzine, are raising their two young sons, Nkhosama and Tawananyasha, in Centurion, South Africa, where he works at a natural gas company.

Ephraim was born with a cleft lip. Despite enduring vicious teasing and bullying that led to him leave school at age 7, he has grown to accept himself in the years since. Throughout that time and for most of his adult life, he’s become accustomed to being pointed out and laughed at in public. All the while, no one ever told Ephraim that surgery could repair his condition. It wasn’t until August 2015 that he learned of this possibility – and that surgery could be provided for free.

An unknown gentleman visited Ephraim’s workplace and told him about an organization named Operation Smile, which provides free cleft surgeries. The kind stranger left the phone number for Operation Smile South Africa. The call would prove to be life-changing. Ephraim learned about a medical mission that was to be conducted the next month in Mbombela.

Ephraim’s joy was only tempered by the seven-hour bus trip he had to take alone. Once he arrived at the medical mission site, he saw so many other people who looked just like him. After Operation Smile medical volunteers conducted a comprehensive health evaluation to determine if he was healthy enough for surgery, all Ephraim could do was wait to see if he would be cleared and scheduled for an operation. The next morning, he learned his surgery was scheduled for that very day. Thrilled, Ephraim called Ldaudzine to deliver the good news and learned that she would make the trip to Mbombela after his procedure to accompany him back home.

Photo: Zute Lightfoot
Photo: Zute Lightfoot

After a short surgery, Ephraim rested in his room, giving everyone he saw two thumbs up. He couldn’t wait to return home to show his sons their father’s new smile.

Photo: Zute Lightfoot

“My family was so surprised when they saw me,” Ephraim said of his homecoming from the medical mission. “They said, ‘I didn’t expect you to look like this now.’”

While Ephraim retains his innate upbeat disposition, he said that life is so much happier as a result of his surgery.

“The biggest change was that before when I was talking to a group of guys then if one of them said something about my mouth I would get so angry,” Ephraim said as he looked back on the 10 months since his procedure. “Now, it’s so much better.”

Photo: Zute Lightfoot


It takes as little as $240 and as few as 45 minutes to provide life-changing surgery and a bright, beautiful new smile to a waiting child.