At a young age, Siham of Morocco had lost hope that she would ever have the life she wanted because of her cleft lip.
Every time she left her house, she was tormented by people on the streets. The bullying she endured from her classmates was just as devastating – Siham dropped out of school after attending for just a few weeks. Most days, Siham stayed at home, hiding from the rest of her community.
“I always wondered why I was born like this and if anyone would ever come to save me,” she said.
When Siham was born, her mother, Samira, was asked if she wanted to keep her baby or give her up to an orphanage. Samira vehemently refused the latter.
Doctors informed her that while surgery was possible, she would need to travel to one of Morocco's major cities to access care. Samira knew that the family could never afford to pay for such a journey – much less the cost for the surgery her daughter so desperately needed.
Amid the pain of growing up subjected to painful social stigma and isolation, Siham had one friend in her neighbor Halima, who has always offer words of support and compassion, telling Siham that one day she would look like her.
Siham had always believed that she was only person born with a cleft lip, but at 12 years old, she learned of Operation Smile Morocco.
Siham and Samira were told by Operation Smile that free surgical care for Siham would be available at a surgical program, to which transportation costs were also covered. Together, they bravely undertook the 36-hour journey to the surgical program site. Their story reflects that of so many Operation Smile patients and families, who travel long distances and often spend precious resources to access safe surgical care – entrusting their children to medical professionals who might not even speak their same language.
Moroccan volunteer plastic surgeon Dr. Mradmi Wafaa takes that responsibility to heart.
"These parents have confidence in us,” Wafaa said. “These parents have put their hope in our hands, and we do not have the right to let them down. We will give you our very best."
Upon their arrival, Siham felt relieved to see other children with her condition.
“I was happy to know that it was not my fault I was born like this and I was not the only one,” shared Siham.
While waiting for her surgery, Siham nurtured the younger patients, helping them practice how to put on their anesthesia masks. When her name was called, Siham walked calmly and confidently to the operating room with the medical volunteers. Wafaa walked by the side of Siham, who's eyes welled up with tears of joy as she anticipated the results of the life-changing surgery which would be perform just beyond the doors ahead.
Siham's surgery was a success, and her parents poured out emotions when they saw their daughter's new smile for the first time.
"When she arrived home, I saw her and cried," said Youssef, Siham's father, who supports his family of six on 300 dirham ($30) per week working as a farmer.
Since her surgery, Siham returned to school – she especially enjoys her French studies – and no longer worries about being bullied. Thanks to Operation Smile Morocco, Siham also receives orthodontic treatments, ensuring her new smile will stay beautiful for years to come.