Why not let your swipes help OSSA create smiles all over South Africa and Africa?
You can by swiping your MySchool/MyVillage/MyPlanet and it does not have to cost you a cent extra.
The MySchool/MyVillage/MyPlanet card supports over 10 000 schools, communities and non- profit/governmental organisations, including OSSA, throughout South Africa.
How does it work? You swipe your card every time a purchase is made at any of the retail partners nationwide? Each transaction is recorded and a percentage paid OSSA.
You can swipe your card with no extra charge at any Woolworths, Engen, Supa Quick, Club Travel, Altech Netstar, Waltons, Toys-R-Us, Reggies, Kalahari.net, Toner Town, Get Ahead, Jack’s Paint & Hardware, and MySchool Travel.
For every purchase you make, OSSA - depending on which retailer you buy from – will receive between 0.25% and 5% of the purchase amount. It costs you nothing except a swipe.
How to apply:
Telephone: contact 0860 100 445 or complete the form and fax it to 0866 822 833
Online: apply for your card at https://www.myschool.co.za/supporter/apply/?beneficiary=11347
Stores: visit any Woolworths store and fill out an application.
OSSA will only receive a worthwhile monthly income if a supporter base of at least 1 000 people constantly swipes their card. Please encourage as many people as possible to sign up for a card and choose us as your charity of choice.
For more information about the MySchool/MyVillage/MyPlanet card, visit www.myschool.co.za.
11 May 2012
Lodie's solo ride for SMILES
OSSA has again been chosen as the charity of choice by motorbike adventure rider Lodie de Jager.
In 2010, Lodie, through donations, raised R136 738 for OSSA when he rode from Germany across Africa to finally reach South Africa.
Lodie will mount his motorbike on May 29 when he undertakes the ride from Germany via Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic States to Russia/Siberia. Once he reaches Siberia, Lodie will turn north-west to the North Cape in Norway - the northern most point of the European continent.
After travelling to the Russian border and back to South Africa in 2010, Lodie will be using the same KLR motorbike for his upcoming solo challenge.
“I work with teenagers and I know how important looks are for a young person. Even though we speak about values and preach inner qualities, appearances are judged. I often ask myself what it does to the self-esteem of a person if her/she cannot look at himself/herself in a mirror and smile back at the friendly face in the mirror,” Lodie said
Lodie, founder of FSA Youth Exchange, first heard of OSSA after one of his exchange students joined one of the OSSA surgical missions.
“When an ex-student came back from a mission with Operation Smile and told me about it, I realised that that was where I would like to get involved. Every child who received surgery is a child blessed with a new life.
“After the people of Africa were so good to me, it was my turn to repay them. It was then when I contacted Operation Smile for the first time,” Lodie explained.
What makes someone ride across continents alone?
“Riding a bike alone with no back-up and no company forces one to be outgoing and interact with the local people.
“The surface of the road or track is only half the challenge. The other half is the human factor. One meets so many normal people, soldiers and police. To find your way around and through all these potential obstacles is the other half of the challenge. Each night when I pitch my tent somewhere it is such a good feeling to know you’ve made it so far. Therefor no journey is just a physical challenge. There is also a huge mental challenge to deal with.”
Lodie is motivated to ride by the people he meets on his journeys.
He discovered that there were “more good people on earth than bad ones”.
“As I am a permanent student of the human psyche, I find my interactions with so many people so fascinating that I cannot stop travelling. I don’t want to set a record. I don’t want to break any record or become the first person to do this or that.
“I want to be known as the traveller that stood up for humanity and for Africa and its people,” Lodie said.
Lodie is urging everyone to donate even it is only R10.
He said: “Through my blog posts, I will spread the good news that there are good people out there. Guys at home, get your friends motivated to start donating – small donations, big donations, all donations are important.
“We want to see the number of children, whose operations will be paid by your donations, increasing. Every cent counts.”
To donate and to follow Lodie, visit www.naboom2germany.co.za.
11 May 2012
Innocent: read about his journey
Innocent Bazarama captured OSSA mission co-ordinator Max Ryan’s attention and heart a week before the rest of the Operation Smile team arrived in Kigali, Rwanda.
As initial preparations for the mission were getting underway at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire of Kigali, Max noticed a kind gentleman with a cleft lip sitting and waiting quietly.
The other patients weren’t due to arrive for days. It turns out that Innocent had travelled to Kigali from his home near the border with Congo last year, but due to the length of the journey – four hours on foot and another four hours by bus – he arrived too late for surgery. He was given a document instructing him to return in 2012 for treatment.
Determined to make it here on time, he arrived one year to the day later. Max made sure he had a place to stay and meals at the hospital until the start of the mission. He told all of the volunteers about Innocent’s kindness; how he wouldn’t get on the bus to travel between the shelter and the hospital until he made sure that the other patients were on board and taken care of. Innocent was a kind of father figure, reminding the other patients to be polite so that no one would have a bad image of Rwanda. He told them that they are all representatives of their country.
In quiet conversation, Innocent told me that he has always been stigmatised in his village because of his cleft - to the point that no one calls him by his name, only by the nickname “cleft”.
Even his father, uncles and family kept him away from others.
When he grew and wanted to get married, his father kept repeating: “This one is not a man. He is not a whole person. He will never be a complete man.”
Innocent somehow knew otherwise and eventually found a beautiful wife and now has five children. He owes this to his own sense of self-worth. The word for self-value in Kinyarwanda is agaciro, and Innocent has found it within himself, outside of, and in spite of, society’s norms. He also knows that his operation will allow society to accept him.
For Innocent this means that his children will no longer be teased at school because of the way their father looks. For Innocent the most important outcome of his surgery is that his children will now be proud.
When I asked him if he had a message for others who have clefts, he looked up at me very seriously and said: “They must give themselves agaciro, no matter what. But they must also keep listening to the announcements on the radio for Operation Smile and hope to get surgery and look like other people. It is important this way.”
Once in the recovery room, Innocent couldn’t believe the transformation.
“This is like a dream,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back to my village and see everyone’s reaction. It is a miracle.”
While miracles seem to be standard business at OSSA, no one could have been happier or more relieved at this much awaited transformation than mission coordinator Max Ryan who kept a watchful eye out for patient number zero, zero one all week.
Written by Lee Slater, OSSA volunteer
11 May 2012
A Mother's Day message
This Mother's Day - please consider giving a mother the greatest gift of all, a future for her child.
We are launching our new newsletter on Mother’s Day because for every mother (and father) it is important for their child to be healthy, happy and face a life full of possibilities.
Many mothers do not always have the capacity to provide that, and for many the most basic of healthcare seems near impossible to provide to their child.
Mothers living below the breadline and in abject poverty cannot afford to provide the care their children desperate need.
Their child or children are born with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate and they do not have the means to help them. We see many of these mother’s on our surgical missions.
When they come to our missions – many with the last few cents in their pocket – they are filled with hope.When Faith Seboko arrived at our South Africa mission she was filled with hope: “I was excited and thought, ‘Wow, there’s hope.’ But, mostly there’s an organisation that specialises in this so they have more knowledge and research.” Her daughter April received her surgery from our team of volunteers. “Without it being repaired, she would have been isolated. She definitely would have been an introvert. Maybe she’d be angry with me? Maybe she’d be angry with God, angry with the world. It had become very frustrating because people would ask if she fell. People ask dumb questions and can be very ignorant. But, now that she’s getting surgery, she’s going to be beautiful inside and out.”
After Veronica Rathokolo’s son Khensani received surgery, she says: “I am so over the moon, I can’t say how I feel, but I am so happy.”
In honour of your mother, why not help – through a donation to OSSA – those mothers who are not able to help their young ones.
22 November 2011
April Seboko 's South Africa Journey
South Africa Mission
April Seboko is the first patient to be taken to the Operation Room on the last day of Operation Smile South Africa’s (OSSA) mission to the small town of Klerksdorp in the North West Province.
Seven-month-old April has travelled with her mother, Faith, and her father, Botho, from Mafikeng in the hope of being chosen for surgery.
Her parents, originally from Botswana, wait anxiously in the parent waiting section of Klerksdorp Hospital while their second-born child is receiving surgery.
When April was born her parents were worried.
“I was scared, I was shocked, and I couldn’t believe it. I thought maybe she wouldn’t make it. I was worried about whether she would feed properly. I just had a lot of questions when she was born. It was a bit frustrated because the nurses didn’t have answers,” Faith explains.
There were many unanswered question. “Did I do something wrong? Did I not eat well? It was kind of depressing and I would ask myself all the time if she’d be okay? Will she live long?”
April is the first person in her family to be born with this deformity. It was also the first time Faith and her husband has seen a cleft lip.
“We waited for a doctor to explain what it is all about. The doctor reassured us that it is repairable so we had hope that she would be okay.”
Family and friends were shocked when they first saw April. They had many questions about why she was born with a cleft lip, and Faith reveals the shock from friends and family “made me a bit uncomfortable because they made you feel like it is a disability”.
Faith thought that her husband blamed her for April facial deformity, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
“I thought he was going to blame me but the way he accepted her was embarrassing because I was asking all the negative things. He saw her beauty. His love for his daughter is just embarrassing,” Faith says with a smile.
But things would be looking up for April and her family.
While at work Faith read a report about Operation Smile South Africa’s Klerksdorp mission in their local newspaper, The Mail. The article outlined details about the mission and when it would take place.
As soon as Faith completed the article, she contacted Meagan Stuurman, OSSA’s southern Africa programme co-ordinator, who gave her all the details and hospitals where the pre-screening would take place.
“I was excited and thought, ‘Wow, there’s hope.’ But, mostly there’s an organisation that specialises in this so they have more knowledge and research,” Faith says.
Looking back, Faith remembers hearing about Operation Smile when she worked at a non-governmental organisation that specialised in HIV outreach.
“I heard about Operation Smile then but never comprehended what is was all about. When I saw the article it all came back to me.”
When the date for the mission finally arrived, April, Faith and Botho, travelled to Klerksdorp from Mafikeng.
April went through the screening process where a medical chart was opened for her. OSSA medical volunteers assessed her to make sure she was in good health should she be chosen for surgery.
After all the patients were assessed, and doctors and nurses completed their deliberation on who would receive surgery, the surgical announcement was made.
“There was a lot of anxiety in the room – are we going to go through; the lip versus the palate. People talk.
When it was announced that April would receive surgery Faith was relieved.
“We were all like ‘wow’. It was a long day. But also see these other patients, some with severe but then they have surgery and they come back and you don’t recognise them. It’s humbling.”
On the morning of April’s surgery, Faith admitted being nervous and anxious with no appetite, but “I’m going to be happy. I need to have joy for her, and gratitude, of course”.
April is a quiet seven-month-old baby. But what would life have been like for her had she not received surgery?
“Without it being repaired, she would have been isolated. She definitely would have been an introvert. Maybe she’d be angry with me? Maybe she’d be angry with God, angry with the world. It had become very frustrating because people would ask if she fell. People ask dumb questions and can be very ignorant. But, now that she’s getting surgery, she’s going to be beautiful inside and out,” Faith said while patiently waiting for her daughter who had been taken into surgery.
Surgery on a cleft lip takes about 45 minutes.
Shortly after April’s surgery, she is moved to the recovery ward and her parents are called in to see her. They are dressed in hospital scrubs to protect their daughter from any bacteria and germs.
Their faces are with both filled with elation and disbelief as they looked closely at their daughter.
When asked how family and friends would react on seeing April, Faith said: “I think they are going to be shocked and amazed. This is her. We will show them that it’s just a condition.
“This is a joyful story and testimony. Hopefully her story will help another child.”
17 September 2011
Arena's Operation Smile Journey
Madagascar: September 2011
Arena is a shy three-year-old. She hides behind her mother, Diana’s frame.
Arena and Diana are only two of hundreds of children and adults on the first day of screening at the Operation Smile South Africa mission to Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. Now and again her daughter’s eyes dart across the road, looking at all the other patients hoping to receive surgery, but mostly she seeks her mother’s attention.
She refuses to smile at us, but once she is comforted by her mother all is well and a slight smile can be seen on her face.
People have made their way from all over the island in the hope of receiving free corrective surgery.
Diana’s journey to repair Arena’s lip through Operation Smile South Africa started in 2008 when an Operation Smile team travelled to Antsirabe. During that surgical mission Arena was not eligible for surgery, but this did not stop her mother from travelling to Antsirabe again the following year in the hope that her daughter would be one of hundreds to receive surgery. At the time Arena was one-year-old.
Since 2008, Diana has travelled with her daughter for her regular post-operative assessments to make sure that she is healthy and there are no complications resulting from her 2009 surgery.
When asked to recall coming to the surgical mission in 2008, Diana says: “When we came to the mission in 2008 she did not receive any surgery, but I continued to have hope because I saw the results of all the other children. I decided to wait for Operation Smile.”
Like so many mothers, Diana was “sad” when she first saw her daughter. Arena is her second child – she has a son who was born with no cleft lip or cleft palate.
“Her big brother was fine. When I saw that she was born with a cleft lip, I contacted Professor Lalatiana Andrianamanarivo who told me that I needed to wait for Operation Smile who would be coming to Madagascar (in 2008),” recalls Diana.
In 2008 she was among hundreds who came to the Operation Smile surgical mission. However, Arena was too young to receive surgery and Diana was told to return to the surgical mission when Operation Smile returned to Antsirabe the following year.
For Diana it was imperative that her daughter receive surgery.
In 2009, Arena and her mother returned to the surgical mission site. Arena was again taken through the screening process. On the day the announcement was made about who would receive surgery, luck was on Arena’s side. Her name was called out among hundreds and would go onto the surgery list for an operation.
“Nothing can express how much joy I felt when it was announced that she would receive surgery,” admits Diana.
“After she got her surgery my family was very happy because they (Operation Smile South Africa) operated,” said her mom.
Surgery has made a world of difference.
“Before she was shy but afterward she was like a different child.
“I don’t know what I would have done if Operation Smile did not come here. We always come back each year for a medical check-up. My hope is that she will be like a normal child.”
13 June 2011
KINSHASA, DRC: JUNE 4-11, 2011
When Grace was born, her mother was blamed for her deformity. Operation Smile South Africa gave her a new smile last year in Kinshasa and she now says she "feels like a normal child."
June 6, 2011
Announcing the Surgical Schedule and OR Set-Up in the DRC
Today we screened a few additional patients, bringing our total screening number to 338.
We will continue to screen throughout the surgical week in case we can add any priority one patients to the schedule, refer patients to local doctors or other NGOs, or give patients information about our next mission in the Congo. Currently, we have 161 patients scheduled for surgery.
In announcing the surgery schedule today we were also able to provide some help for the patients who were not able to be scheduled for surgery. Our speech pathologist held a feeding workshop for the babies under 6 months old. Our dentist molded away making obturators to close cleft palates. Our local volunteers gave out buckets of goodies.
Scarlett saw our World Care patients. Aime and some local doctors worked to give referrals. While not everyone can get surgery, we were happy to be able to provide something for everyone.
In addition to being pleased with our turnout, we have been very fortunate to have some wonderful sponsors helping throughout the mission.
We have some lovely ladies from a local club who have been helping us sort out all kinds of logistical tasks, fetching supplies for us, and also organizing our sponsored lunches and dinners for the team. We have been treated to some delicious food and fun environments.
Tonight we held our pre-surgery team meeting and everyone laughed and enjoyed playing the name game. One of our Ghanaian volunteers even added a fun activity to the end which involved giving out Ghanaian chocolate! The team is now enjoying a dinner amongst their medical specialties as they discuss our first day of surgery tomorrow. We are eager to get started!
- Melissa Hodges, Program Coordinator, Operation Smile
June 5, 2011
A Perfect New Smile for Grace
It is the first day of screening of Operation Smile South Africa’s medical mission in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and throughout the day eight-year-old Grace is already making her presence known.
In a pink and white flower dress, Grace is full of energy, playing with anyone willing to entertain her. She is more interested in playing than answering questions about her cleft lip.
For seven years, Grace had lived with the ridicule of being born with a cleft lip, but it does not faze her now.
“I’m fine. Everything is ok,” she says.
She admits that before her clip lip she did not feel like a “normal child,” but now she feels good and has more self confidence.
Before she received surgery from Operation Smile South Africa, life was not as easy.
Her father Shikayi Donatien says that when she was born it was a “big surprise” but after they saw the doctor he said that she would be ok and normal.
“We thought that she was the only one in the world like that but after speaking to the doctor we found out that she was not. I was really surprised,” Grace’s father said.
Grace has five brothers and sisters and is the youngest and only one of her siblings born with a cleft lip.
When Grace was born, her mother was blamed for her deformity.
“My family was really angry with my wife. They said my wife was the one with the problem,” Shikayi said.
But this did not stop her parents from treating her like a normal child, letting her play with friends and family, and encouraging her to attend school like other children her age.
Last year, after seven years of living with the deformity, Shikayi heard about Operation Smile South Africa, and found out about their free medical mission to Kinshasa.
He seized the opportunity and travelled to Clinique Ngaliema in the capital city where the medical mission was held.
At the hospital, Grace was examined by doctors to see if she was eligible to receive surgery. After three days of waiting, Shikayi was finally told that his daughter would receive free corrective surgery.
“After the operation, my family is now happy and not scared of her anymore - though they continue to say that it was my wife who was at fault,” Shikayi said.
“This was a big change for Grace. The operation was very, very good and we are proud of her now. We are really happy and we think she has a good future.”
- Nadine Christians, Operation Smile South Africa
June 5, 2011
Sitting in the screening room after a full day of assessing patients, the team is waiting for any patients who may still be on their journey to the hospital. During our two days of screening, over 300 patients were assessed by our medical professionals.
Mother, fathers, uncles, aunts, friends and children spent the two days patiently waiting under a huge tent, anticipating the moment their turn would come.
Mom’s had their nails painted bright colors while the Operation Smile student team played soccer with the kids and painted their faces with fun designs.
Inside the hall at Clinique Ngaliema, medical and non-medical volunteers were setting up and seeing patients one by one.
Our team is made up of volunteers from over 10 countries including Italy, Ghana and Columbia. We also have a great amount of local support, ranging from a team of women who are cooking food for all the patients, to a group of high school students who have chosen to assist our team even though they are currently writing exams.
The in-country support has been incredible, locals have gone above and beyond to make us feel welcome and to ensure that all processes run smoothly.
We’ll soon announce who has been chosen for surgery!
- Andrea Joseph, Operation Smile South Africa Intern
- Photos by Demelza Lightfoot and Zute Lightfoot
June 5, 2011
We finished our second day of screening in the Congo today with a total of 323 patients!
It has been a successful two days and our team is looking forward to releasing the surgical results and conducting some education workshops tomorrow.
- Melissa Hodges, Program Coordinator, Operation Smile
- Panoramic photo of screening by Rich Berlin, Volunteer
June 4, 2011
Today was our first day of screening in the DRC! Patient turnout was fantastic. We screened 167 today and have another 160+ waiting to be screened tomorrow.
Most of the patients are being put up in a shelter next to the hospital, which is very convenient.
Our team did a fantastic job today and they enjoyed a lovely dinner tonight courtesy of one of the many wonderful sponsors. Four team members also arrived tonight and will be joining us tomorrow for our 2nd day of screening.
We are looking forward to another successful day!
- Melissa Hodges, Program Coordinator, Operation Smile
04 June 2011
During the Democratic Republic of Congo mission in 2010, there was one man who stole the show.
He was a mini-celebrity when he came into surgery.
His name was Edouard Mukawa Matiela and at the time he was 84-years-old. Edouard, for 84 years, lived with a cleft lip and the ridicule and challenges attached to having a facial deformity. He was one of the last patients to receive surgery on the last day of the mission. And he was a feisty patient.
After he came out of theatre, he was dancing with joy.
A year later Edouard, who lives in Kimbanseke Mokali quarter which is an-hour-and-a-half away,
was back for his one year assessment.
Visiting the mission site he is still as upbeat as ever, ready to take photos with any and everyone.
“I am feeling very happy and excited. I had a default in my life but now I don’t have it anymore,” he says.
Edouardo explains that if it were not for a neighbour and seeing one of the Operation Smile posters, he would still have a cleft lip.
“In the area I live there was a neighbour who had a child with same problem and told me about Operation Smile. He also saw a poster of Operation Smile in front of the Catholic Church.
Before people made fun of him and laughed at him. But “when I went back with a fixed lip people where so excited and greeter me as if I came back from somewhere where I achieved something great”.
22 March 2011
KIGALI, RWANDA: MARCH 10-18, 2011
On our second medical mission to Kigali, our volunteers screened 527 patients in just two days and scheduled 262 patients for surgery.
The telling of this story is quite difficult, but even in its darkest moments can one find evidence of the truth and beauty of human compassion. Vian’s journey to Kigali began in a neighboring country, Uganda.
His mother is an alcoholic and his father has died. While he still sleeps in his mother’s home, he has found great comfort in the figure of his uncle and guardian, Ambrose. Ambrose is a social studies teacher and keeps a close eye on Vian both in school and on the weekends. Both were accompanied by their friend, Moses.
Originally from the same village, Moses and Ambrose met again while Moses, working for Foundations Uganda, was distributing school uniforms to children who cannot afford them.
His attention was drawn to Vian’s cleft and the particular challenges he faces. One of the other volunteers was familiar with Operation Smile and told him about the organization.
Moses then visited the Operation Smile website to discover as much as he could, including the fact that in one month’s time, there was a mission scheduled for Rwanda. Moses passed the information along to Ambrose, and even offered to drive them to Kigali for the operation.
Vian, 14, was initially terrified by the idea of an operation, but Moses showed him the website as well as YouTube videos of Operation Smile to show him how his life could change. After that, said Moses, he asked excitedly every day, “Is it tomorrow, is it tomorrow?”
Moses explained to us that those with clefts are considered to be cursed in Uganda. They think that you are possessed by a bad spirit.
When Vian went to school for the first time, all of the other children ran out of the classroom leaving him alone. Many of those with clefts are ostracized by society and end up trying to hurt themselves.
Vian himself narrowly escaped a fate that is unthinkable, but yet still present in Uganda, child sacrifice.
Men came to his village seeking to purchase a child, Vian, with money in order to sacrifice him and sprinkle his blood on a new building “for luck.”
Locals quickly rallied around him, protected him, and sent the men off. Moses told us of this experience, and of the phenomenon of child sacrifice in Uganda, during one of the quieter moments while waiting for treatment. We couldn’t help but notice that the open book on his lap was Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Just before his operation, Vian noticed other boys his age as they emerged, healed, from the operating room.
“Wow!—he is so beautiful now!” When it was his turn, he seemed quite overwhelmed. The languages were not familiar to him, neither English or Kinyarwanda.
A Bantu, his dialect is Rukiga, spoken by only 800,000 people in Uganda. He initially tried to run out of the room because he was so scared, but the anesthetist comforted him and demonstrated by gestures what to expect. After his surgery, Vian looked amazing.
His uncle was smiling from ear to ear, unable to speak, and Moses just shook his head and indicating the OR said quietly: “There is magic happening in there.”
Moses remarked later that he has seen a lot of clefts in Uganda, but none repaired.
“I don’t think this service exits yet where we come from. Wow, when Vian goes back home the other kids with clefts will see him and he will be so popular. The cutest guy in the village. He will be like the president of the United States! Something has been achieved here.”
- Dr. Lee Slater, Operation Smile Volunteer
March 18, 2011
Margaret and Agnes: Mother and Daughter Receive New Smiles
Margaret first learned about Operation Smile last year on the radio. Her sister, who also has a cleft lip, jumped on the opportunity and traveled to Kigali for surgery. She told me that she was so surprised when she saw her sister return: “it was so good!”
It turns out that Margaret is one of eight girls in her family, five of whom have clefts.
Arash (the most energetic and kind pediatrician I have ever met) explained that she has Van der Woude’s syndrome, as evidenced by the small pit on her lower lip. With this syndrome, her own children have a 50% chance of having clefts. She has both a daughter and a son, and of the two children, her daughter is the only one with a cleft.
Margaret after her cleft lip surgery with her daughter, Agnes, 3, before her surgery.
Agnes is a beautiful and happy 3-year-old, whose favorite game seems to be hide and seek. Agnes is the reason that Margaret made the long journey to Kigali from their home in the Bugasera district.
Margaret’s surgery was earlier in the week and she was more and more excited and determined as she saw the other patients after surgery. Today it was her daughter’s turn.
“My only wish is for it to turn out even better than my own.” According to Margaret, by next year Operation Smile mission in Rwanda will have treated three generations of her family. Her other three sisters will come, as well as their mother (Agnes’ grandmother). I can’t imagine what a great picture that will be.
During our last conversation together, little Agnes wanted to say something but kept getting shy at the last minute. Her mother said that she wanted to say “thank you” and express her own happiness at what she was seeing around her, but that she kept losing the words to say it.
Operation Smile's student volunteers traveled for two hours into the green hilly countryside of Rwanda to give presentations on daily health and hygiene in schools and orphanages.
They ended up at a beautiful school surrounded by lots of green grass and run by caring Catholic nuns. There were many orphans among the student population. During their afternoon presentation, one of the volunteers asked the group of schoolchildren if they knew of anyone with a cleft lip. All of the eyes turned to one little girl, Mohanga Shyogwe.
Mohanga proudly announced that her very own brother has a cleft and was presently in Kigali in order to be seen by Operation Smile. In a quiet conversation later with some of the volunteers she said that while her brother was two years older than she, he was in fact two years behind in school. She expressed that she loves her brother very much and that she always helps him with his homework.
“I love him even though the others taunt him and hate him.”
The student volunteers couldn’t wait to pass on Mohanga’s story. She had clearly touched each of their hearts.
“When you get back to Kigali,” she said, “Please say hi to my mother for me, and tell her that I love her very much.”
Angelique is a shy 18-year-old girl from the western province in Rwanda.
Her mother, who also has a cleft, was absolutely exuberant. She pulled me aside and asked me to write down what she wanted to say: “I am very happy. I wish I had something to give to you, like a bag or something, but I want to say God Bless You. My girl has changed. She has become so beautiful. I thank you for all that you have done for her. She is my only girl and now she will have a good future because in society she will have no more problems. Her future will be good. Thank you. I will come next year for my own operation. I didn’t expect it to be so good.”
- Dr. Lee Slater, Operation Smile Volunteer
March 18, 2011
Bright and early at the meeting each morning, Kenyan head nurse Fanuel galvanized the team into action by leading everyone in song. We all clapped along to his beat, slowly caught on to the Swahili words, and with much more gusto sang out the more familiar refrain: hakuna matata. The “don’t worry, everything will be alright” meaning captures the spirit of this whole mission. Here are a few moments that will stay with me forever.
I was standing just outside the operating theater when the OR coordinator “Dingo” burst outside. In his Aussie accent he approached the two 17-year-old boys who were up next for surgery.
“Hi guys! You scared?” (They confessed to being very nervous.) “Don’t be—after this, you’re going to be chick magnets!”
And just as quickly he disappeared back inside. It took 10 minutes and three languages for me to explain to the translator, and then he to the boys, what “chick magnets” means. I will never forget the exact moment when they got it — the tension flowed out of their shoulders and huge smiles broke out. In one second, they became just like any other teenage boy.
Some of the volunteers shared their own stories with me, their reasons for being there, how it has changed them forever.
Aimé from the Congo spoke to me about his own children, ages 2 and 8. He told me that there is an expression in his culture: “If the bird in a tree gets struck by a rock, the parrot in his cage shouldn’t laugh, for he is a bird too.” We shouldn’t laugh or judge, since we are all human beings, and each child is, in a sense, our own.
Gareth captured the heart and soul of each child's story and our medical volunteers changing lives in Kigali.
Photographer Gareth talked for a long while with a young boy from neighboring Uganda and his guardian. They gave him permission to photograph every step of the way, from the initial screening to surgery itself and recovery.
Gareth made a point to tell the boy, Vian, that he will be e-mailing the photos very soon. That way, he said, you can have a photo book to show everyone in your village. Together, they agreed to call it, “This Is What Happened to My Life.”
South African dentist, Marius, hand crafts each obturator for his adult patients with cleft palates. That way they can eat more easily and their speech is improved. He works quietly, in a corner dentistry space tucked in an adjacent building.
He discreetly fills the chair with his patients when the Rwandan dentist isn’t using it, in a kind of quite ballet. Marius showed me how he adds a tooth every now and then to an obturator - filling a space for the patient where a tooth in front is missing. Here, meters away from the OR, Marius is changing lives and giving tooth-filled smiles to those who appreciate it more than they can say.
At the end of the mission, one truth could tell the whole story: Each volunteer is a hero in his/her own right and each child has a story, is an individual, is compelling. Each child could be YOUR child, and you couldn’t imagine them in better hands.
- Dr. Lee Slater, Operation Smile Volunteer
March 16, 2011
The Operation Smile medical team first met Anne Elyse last year during the inaugural mission to Rwanda. This gorgeous 6-year-old with long beaded hair came to have her palate repaired. The week of the mission, however, Anne Elyse was suffering from malaria and it was recommended that she wait for her operation until this year. Now fully healthy, she is charming all of the volunteers and thrilled to be here.
Anne Elyse’s mother is very proud of her, telling us about her successes as well as her challenges at school. This is important to her, she said, since she herself is a business woman here in Kigali. She is a distributor of vegetables and fruits at the large market in town, buying from farmers who come from as far as neighboring Uganda.
She told us that Anne Elyse has only one complaint. At school she always performs the best in her class on her written exams. “One hundred percent!” But when it comes to the oral exams, the teachers have trouble understanding her answers. Because of the way the words sounds with an open palate, the other children begin to laugh at her and she stops talking during the exam. She said that she is too afraid to continue.
At home she complains about this, insisting “but I know all of the answers!” Nonetheless, she is very proud of her 4th place standing overall in her class.
I learned that children like Anne Elyse who have their palates closed by Operation Smile leave the mission with patient care booklets that include information on speech and language. They will return next year for a follow up appointment with the speech therapists. They also take home a kit full of toys to help with therapy at home—bubbles, feathers, etc. to encourage proper air flow. For now, Anne Elyse will see some immediate improvement in her speech. I can only imagine what a star she’ll become in the future.
George (AMSA volunteer)
George is a fourth year medical student here in Kigali and an amazing translator. Not only has he perfected English, but he has a caring, respectful and sensitive approach to the patients and their families. He instantly makes them feel comfortable as we ask them to tell us about their experiences and their families.
He is a member of the American Medical Students Association (AMSA), an international organization that has a chapter here in Rwanda. George and his colleagues are part of a team of AMSA volunteers helping out this mission, from assisting in surgery to translating at all of the different stations. He wanted to share his amazement:
“I feel so bad when I see the cleft. They cannot smile and talk like the others. How can someone who cannot laugh, all of a sudden start laughing with the other children? It was so wonderful and beautiful to see. It was so amazing. I was so happy to observe, but then they asked me to assist! ‘Hand me that instrument, please... Squeeze that… Hold this…’ All of this to change someone’s life. The blood on the surgeon’s gloves will change a life. That is what I kept thinking. All day here I keep getting goose bumps.”
Claude, his father, and Kenyan nurse Fanuel.
For most of the time that we had the pleasure of speaking to Claude’s father, his hand rested protectively on his son’s shoulder. Very small for 16, Claude walks with an old man’s gait, almost shuffles along next to his dad.
His father explained that because of his lip and palate, as a baby Claude was unable to breastfeed and had great difficulty drinking from a bottle. The milk always came out of his nose. Now, he is weaker than the other boys his age.
He has three brothers and sisters, and helps them with the chores at home: drawing water, feeding the pig. Claude’s parents had to sell the other animals in order to afford the secondary school fees for the oldest child.
It is amazing how quickly one’s life can change. They heard about Operation Smile on the radio Thursday evening and made it to Kigali, a 3-hour bus ride from their home near Butare, by Friday.
Claude’s father is an older gentleman, with a lively expressive face. He told us that Claude wants to do what the other boys do: carry things on their heads, get the wood for the cooking fire. But he tries to protect Claude by forbidding him to do these things.
“If he carries water, I make sure he carries less than the others. I don’t want him to struggle and have the other kids tease him even more. In school, he is already ranked 5th in his class. His favorite subject is Kinyarwanda. I am extremely grateful to you because I could never have afforded anything like this. I protect him because at birth he had no chance. I love all of my children. When we get home, my family will also be happy with me for taking him to you. Please don’t stop helping others. God will bless you.”
- Dr. Lee Slater, Operation Smile Volunteer
March 15, 2011
Her eyes are what linger in your memory long after you’ve said good bye to Donatille. Her gaze is gentle, but hopeful, masking a story that will grip your very soul.
Donatille has been an orphan since the death of her mother when she was only 8 years old. Her father has disappeared. Now 12, she lives with her father’s second wife, who abuses her.
At home she is responsible for domestic chores like drawing the water, collecting the wood for the cooking fire and general cleaning. School is her refuge - while the other children laugh at her, she nonetheless finds joy in reading and learning to write.
Other members of the village heard of Operation Smile’s upcoming mission on the radio. They pleaded with the woman that Donatille lives with to allow her to come to Kigali. She refused. The villagers then took up a collection to help Donatille with bus fare, took her to the bus and sent her for the chance of surgery.
A 12 year-old girl, here on her own, embraced by a team of international volunteers. She is so quiet that you don’t notice her until she gently touches your arm. When I asked her how she was feeling after surgery, she kept telling me that she “has no pain now.” My translator, Remy, insists that she meant “no pain of any kind now.”
While Donatille will be, in her words, “heading back into the fire” of her homelife, she is so excited about the other children’s reactions in school to her new appearance.
The other set of eyes in this story that you should know about, are those of the translator, Remy. As we spoke to Donatille, his own 25 year-old young man’s eyes blinked away tears. “This is hard for me,” he whispered. “I came from poverty as well.” “She does not only live in poverty, but she is also poor in the heart.”
Donatille is leaving Kigali with a new sense of self-worth. “They can’t laugh at me anymore.”
Isaac really wanted to talk to me. On the first day of screening, he stayed quietly by my side and waited for my attention. I’m pretty sure it was because I had a ball in my pocket. He is a smallish boy of 14 and told me that he is so happy to be here.
After school he prefers to spend time with his family’s three cows. His favorite one is called “pinky” after her pinkish color. When I asked why he didn’t play football with the other boys after school, he told me that he prefers the company of the “inka,” his cows. The cows don’t make fun of him because of his cleft.
He is looking forward to the day when his lip will be corrected, in his words, “for others.”
Unfortunately, there was not enough room on the surgery schedule for Isaac this time around. Other older children like him will need to wait until the next mission. Isaac said that he sees the other boys around him turning into men. “I will be able to think about becoming a man once my lip is fixed.” For now, Isaac dreams of becoming a cow-keeper in the future.
Cherie is a beautiful 9-year-old girl. She and her mother traveled for 3 hours on foot and then another 4 hours on a bus to get to Kigali from their small village in the western province. She is the only one in her village of 300 people with a cleft.
Last year, some Rwandan soldiers came to her village to help treat minor illnesses. They treated a sore throat, but couldn’t help with a cleft. They recommended Operation Smile and told them to listen to the radio for an announcement.
Since that day, her mother has tried very hard to keep Cherie’s mouth clean and her teeth brushed so that she would be healthy for the operation.
Before the surgery her mother was telling me about her other four children and joking, “maybe this will make her clever in school!” Cherie herself had a different idea — “I hope to get married and be beautiful like the others.” After surgery, they were thrilled — “God bless you!”
Cherie admires her new smile immediately after surgery.
Yassina’s story both begins and ends with a word in Kinyarwanda that means value, or self-respect: agaciro. While this beautiful 14-year-old girl has always had a kind and beautiful soul, she always felt as though she were ugly.
After surgery, when she looked at herself in the mirror for the first time, she said “ I was ugly before, but now I am beautiful.”
Then, she sat up very carefully and asked through the translator for me to come closer. She was still groggy from the anesthesia. She leaned in, looked me straight in the eyes and said very seriously and slowly “Murakozi. (Thank you.) I want to be a nurse or a doctor just like you when I get older.”
Yassina’s mother told me that she is a child who has great respect for others, and who loves to engage in conversations. Her parents are farmers and plan to save from their earnings at the market in order to be able to afford the secondary school fees.
So it seems that Yassina’s own gentle ways somehow led her to another kind spirit when she came to the attention of Operation Smile’s Scarlett Steer. In the days just before this mission, Scarlett was in Gitwe, Rwanda doing training in basic life support.
A nurse introduced her to Yassina in the hopes that she could help. Knowing just how much this surgery could change this child’s life, Scarlett personally accompanied her on a four-hour bus ride to Kigali, straight to the hospital, acutely aware of the other children’s mocking of Yassina along the way.
I watched Scarlett as she interacted with this young patient and saw her excitement after a beautifully successful surgery. Like all of the other Operation Smile coordinators and volunteers, Scarlett also has great agaciro.
- Dr. Lee Slater, Operation Smile Volunteer
Yassina and Scarlett from Operation Smile South Africa.
March 14, 2011
Samuel: No longer ridiculed
When I first saw Samuel, age 6, he told me that he “needs our help.” He is one of five children in his family and he rode 6 hours on the bus to get from his village to the Operation Smile mission in Kigali.
Samuel likes to play with a ball but with his cleft lip he is “ashamed to be with others” because they tease and blame him. The other children at school told him that when he sleeps, a mouse bites his lip, preventing it from healing; which made Samuel frightened and embarrassed to go to school despite his passion for learning.
Both Samuel and his mother were amazed and overjoyed after the surgery, unable to express in words the difference it has made in their lives and the joy it has brought to their hearts.
“The others in the village will be so surprised. They won’t call him by his nickname anymore, 'bibari' or 'split lip.' They will now call him by his name: Samuel."
In his mother’s words, “I thank you so much; I wish you all blessings from God.”
Alice: Hoping for a better life and future
Alice came to the Operation Smile mission in Kigali on her own at seventeen years old. A domestic worker, Alice earns approximately 5 dollars per month, the cost of the bus fare to Kigali from her village.
When she heard about the Operation Smile mission on the radio, she saved and saved to afford the trip.
She cannot read or write since attending school with a cleft was unthinkable — the other children chided her and called her only by her nickname, “Big Lips.”
Others wouldn’t drink from the shared bowl with her, a Rwandan custom for fear of catching her cleft.
Alice said that she lost many things because of her cleft: school, the possibility of a husband, the possibility of a good job, friends of her own generation.
Alice has a plan for life after her surgery. She wants to sell tomatoes, beans, and potatoes at the market. In order to be successful, though, she will attend a class for adults where she will learn how to count and read.
Before her surgery, Alice “just wanted to survive.” After seeing her new reflection in the mirror, however, she sees her plan as a reality.
“Now everything will be better. I am very happy because I am becoming a beautiful girl.”
While tending another’s house and cooking, Alice listens to the radio. “I love the singing,” she says, “but I could never sing with a cleft. Now I will sing a lot….”
- Dr. Lee Slater, Operation Smile Volunteer
March 13, 2011
The second annual Rwanda mission started on March 11 with the first day of screening. After two days of screening, we have successfully screened a phenomenal 527 patients! This exceeded our expectations completely.
Today the schedule was announced and 262 patients have been scheduled for surgery, compared to last years’ 248. However, there are still many that we couldn’t operate on this time around who hold on to the hope of having surgery next year.
The team has been great and all have been trying to help as much as they can, working night and day to complete patient charts and data. They also managed to finish set up the operating rooms and recovery room yesterday already and just made sure that all loose ends were tied up today.
Monday is our first surgery day and we trust all will go well following Operation Smile’s highest standards of protocol and patient care.
Thank you to all of you for your support. I will be sure to keep you updated throughout the rest of the week.
- Meagan Stuurman, Program Coordinator, Operation Smile South Africa (OSSA)
March 12, 2011
Tangible, repetitive, intriguing; a camera provides a doorway into another life. But it only opens this door a tiny crack—a box of a scene and the surface of a life form—offering a glimpse, but not a full view.
Ever since seeing Operation Smile videos from their inaugural mission in Rwanda, I have desperately wanted to open that door fully; expand the box and see into the life form. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the second Operation Smile mission to Kigali, Rwanda, providing me with the ultimate opportunity to do just that.
I came here with certain notions based on what I had been exposed to before, and I was ecstatic to begin today, the first day of screening.
I began handing out small fun bracelets to help the patients become less overwhelmed and nervous, and immediately I was touched by their innocent souls—absolutely beaming through their malformations in spite of all they had been through; a feeling that overwhelmed me but was more gratifying than any other I had ever experienced.
I then started to play a game with some who after a few moments did not want to leave my side, glowing with joy and comfort from the inside out. Whatever I did, they would repeat—putting all else out of their minds as well as my own.
So many of these children have been through the unspeakable; and to give them peace, even for a few moments, is beyond words to describe.
All I can say is that a genuine love for them as human beings filled me over the brim—love I will never lose as long as I live.
This is my favorite thing about Operation Smile; they see these children as human beings, seeing the pearl inside the oyster that has been discarded, and help them discover their beautiful spirits for themselves.
- Madeleine Slater, Operation Smile Volunteer
Madeleine Slater playing with children awaiting surgery in the child-life area.
March 12, 2011
The much anticipated and perhaps most feared, by patients and team members alike, event took place this morning: the surgery list reading. Bouncing and bubbling with a euphoric glow if chosen, and utterly devastated if not; this is undoubtedly the most difficult part of the mission.
It is exhilarating to see the ones who are selected identify themselves and walk over to another area, a constantly shifting yin/yang world; vision versus blindness. And yet these children stand strong through everything around them—Habimana, a precious boy who had surgery here last year and is now here for his follow-up, came over to play games and came over to hug me whenever he saw me.
Another, Laurence, had surgery on her lip last year but needs her palate fixed. I held out my hands and she took them in a flurry of joy and excitement, and we started to dance, boogying, swaying, stepping, both of us smiling all the while. I picked her up and started bouncing her around, and then she laid her head on my shoulder in utter momentary bliss; and she started to laugh—a sound coming not from a nasal or oral cavity but from a beautiful, sweet, contented heart.
Operation Smile has already changed the lives of both of these children, bringing more in their path; both a gift and a reward beyond any material possession.
Everyone standing with me on this mission is an admirable, generous, exemplary person making an unbelievable difference in these children’s lives—what all would call, and I am no exception, a hero. The interesting twist about heroes, however, is that they can never do something great alone. Superman cannot save the city without a villain there to terrorize it; if clefts did not exist, there would be no need for an organization like this.
Just the same, mission coordinators cannot do their job without the rest of a team to organize, but they cannot do their jobs either without that coordinator to organize them.
In my mind Operation Smile is a collaboration of patients and many other individuals and volunteers, all outstanding in their own right, coming together to create a heroic body for the betterment of all of their own lives and the world as a whole.
- Madeleine Slater, Operation Smile Volunteer
15 February 2011
WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA: FEBRUARY 6-10, 2011
A LONG WAY FROM HOME: UATJANGAVI’S STORY
Uatjangavi Ngombe, a 4-year-old girl from the Himba tribe, received reconstructive cleft lip and cleft palate surgery on our inaugural mission to Namibia.
Strangers in a foreign land
The harsh African sun pierced through the tree canopy above us as we trekked up the steep rocky path. Beneath us the ground was bone dry. I had to stop to catch my breath. Sister Brenda-Francisca, a local nurse at Ruacana clinic led the way. We had met her that morning and she offered to show us the way to Opjaandamwenyo village, a place we could barely pronounce.
Opjaandamwenyo village is a remote spot about six kilometers outside Ruacana, a town in north-western Namibia. It was here that we hoped to find Uatjangavi, a 4-year-old girl from the Himba tribe.
We did not know much about Uatjangavi or her world before arriving in Namibia – just that she was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Operation Smile South Africa’s inaugural surgical mission to Namibia was to take place the following week at Windhoek Central State Hospital. We were here to document a true Namibian story and hoped that Uatjangavi would be one of the lucky patients to receive free surgery in Windhoek, the country’s capital.
After a kilometers walk through the bush, we arrived at Uatjangavi’s village. A couple of goats scattered off in the other direction as we approached. Three huts circled a kraal where a dozen cattle sat immersed in the mud. Underneath a large tree sat an old man humming to himself and rocking a calabash back and forth. Occasionally a fly would land on his nose and he would swat it away. Brenda-Francisca explained that he was making butter fat.
She spoke to him in Ojimhimba and explained why we were visiting. He turned in her direction, smiled and then mumbled a few words back to her. She explained to us that he was blind and that Uatjangavi and her grandmother were on their way back to the village. We learned that his name was Tjitalila and he was Uatjangavi’s grandfather.
Uatjangavi’s grandmother’s name is Mbinge. Uatjangavi’s parents work and live in neighbouring Angola and she is looked after by her grandparents.
We rested for a while under the shade of the large tree. Soon Uatjangavi and her grandmother appeared from behind the hut. She is a tall, strong and slender woman. Her body was covered head to toe in the traditional red ochre mix. Uatjangavi clung to her side, occasionally making eye contact with us.
We all sat together under the tree. Uatjangavi quietly sat on Mbinge’s lap while she told us of her excitement for Uatjangavi’s trip. She had been dreaming of this for a very long time.
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