Noemia and her mother, Bendita. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.
Children like Noemia possess a special form of bravery.
It’s a courage that can often be concealed by shyness and vulnerability. This courage endures teasing and mockery with a sense of dignity that many struggle with when faced with adversity.
It’s what allows a 10-year-old girl to let go of her mother’s hand and walk into an operating room.
Noemia was born outside of the city of Quelimane in Mozambique. Her mother, Bendita, and her father, who are subsistence farmers, were heartbroken when their daughter was born with a cleft lip, a condition that didn’t affect their four other children. For 10 years, Bendita never knew that surgery was an option and lived each day believing that she was helpless to do anything.
“I only heard about this mission when the headmaster at Noemia’s school told me about it,” she said.
Mothers like Bendita also have their own form of bravery, an instinctive need to protect their child no matter what the future holds. This need is relentless and lasts a lifetime.
As soon as Bendita learned about the mission, she didn’t hesitate to make the two-hour trip with Noemia on the back of a neighbor’s bicycle to reach the Operation Smile team.
During the screening process, Noemia was encouraged to play with the other children at the mission. She was nervous at first, but the more she engaged, the less reserved she became. As Noemia played, Bendita found time to connect with the other parents.
“When I saw all of these parents, it helped to see I wasn’t the only one,” she said.
Bendita is a cheerful and kind woman who is quick to smile and ready to laugh, but when asked about what life has been like for her daughter, her disposition changes.
“I feel very bad because Noemia is being laughed at,” said Bendita through an upwelling of emotion. “I have nothing else to say.”
Photo: Zeke du Plessis.
After Noemia received a comprehensive health evaluation, she was deemed healthy enough for surgery and placed on the mission schedule. When the time came for her operation, both Noemia’s and her mother’s bravery were tested as she was taken into the operating room.
But Bendita’s confidence did not falter.
“I am not scared because I am sure Noemia will be fine,” she said.
Bendita waits while Noemia receives surgery. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.
Her daughter’s successful cleft lip surgery affirmed Bendita’s faith in Operation Smile’s medical volunteers.
Two days after Noemia’s operation, Bendita was glowing with joy over her daughter’s new smile.
“I was very, very happy when I saw Noemia,” she said. “The people laughing at her will now be laughing with her.”
Noemia enjoys school and has developed a love for writing. Bendita hopes that her daughter will continue to study and one day become a teacher.
Bendita said that she’s thankful for what Operation Smile and its medical volunteers have done for her daughter. She added that she’s grateful to the headmaster for letting her now about the possibility of safe surgery.
As a parent who has firsthand experience of the care that Operation Smile provides, Bendita offers this message for all of the mothers whose children are living with cleft conditions:
“Be patient, because when the time comes, they will be treated as Noemia was.”