An aid group called Operation Smile has been helping people born with cleft lips and cleft palates for over 30 years.
The group, based in the United States, works in countries around the world.
In the African nation of Malawi, Operation Smile’s medical team operates on babies affected by a cleft lip or palate for free.
Many parents there feel embarrassed if their child is born with either condition. Agnes Chiotcha is a Malawian. She gave birth to a son with a cleft lip last year.
Chiotcha says she was overcome with emotion and wondered why she had given birth to such a child.
In Chiotcha’s home village, people began to say that her child’s cleft lip resulted from a failed abortion. They claimed that she had asked a doctor to end the pregnancy.
Others accused her of using birth control methods that deformed her baby.
Chiotcha says she denied that any kind of birth control was involved. She said that God created her boy with a cleft lip.
Operation Smile says cleft lips and palates are the world’s third most common birth defect. They reportedly affect one out of every 750 babies.
In Malawi, Operation Smile has performed 1,000 surgical operations over the past seven years. But the group heavily depends on foreign doctors because few local plastic surgeons are available.
Ibrahim Nthalika is program manager for Operation Smile-Malawi.
“We have only two [Malawian] plastic surgeons that...volunteered to work with us, that can do this and volunteer to work with us.”
People born with a cleft lip or palate may have difficulty speaking and eating. They also face unkind treatment and discrimination like the kind James Rice experienced.
Rice says his aunt insulted him a lot. He says she told him that if he had been born when she was there, she would have thrown him away -- into the toilet.
But those who receive the operation have reason to smile. Agnes Chiotcha says now those who used to insult her will feel guilty once they see her child had an operation.
James Rice says now he will be able to do everything without any problem and will not feel badly as before. He adds that he can now tell others who have clefts to have their defect repaired.
Operation Smile estimates that 3,000 people in Malawi still suffer from cleft lips or palates. The group is now training local doctors to perform the operation.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
abortion – n. a medical procedure used to end a pregnancy and cause the death of the fetus
aunt – n. the sister of your father or mother or the wife of your uncle
cleft lip – n. a split in the upper lip that some people are born with
defect – n. a physical problem that causes something to be less valuable, effective, healthy, etc.
embarrassed – adj. feeling confused and foolish in front of other people