“There is a five year backlog of children waiting on surgeries in Zimbabwe.” This came from the primary craniofacial surgeon in Zimbabwe in 2017. When a child’s cleft repairs are performed, their ability to eat, fight off infection, and speak can all improve. More Zimbabwean medical professionals are receiving training in this specialty field, and with every medical camp the amount of children waiting for surgery will decrease. Until the World is Cleft free means exactly what it says.
During the medical screening day, every patient visits the counseling station. Counseling is
central to Love Without Reason's pre-surgical process. Each of us is valuable, and our overall
health includes more than just our physical health and appearance.
Harare Medical Camp reminded us all that "because every child matters" is a message, not just a slogan. A young man, Ernest, had spent 14-years with a cleft lip. At first sight, he seemed like a typical teenager. However, as he tried to communicate, he exhibited a universal behavior seen across the globe. Years of humiliation and ridicule had taken a toll on Ernest. He struggled to make eye contact and would tentatively glance at faces before hurriedly looking away.
For Ernest, it took a lot of effort to open up at the counseling station as he told his story. In his village, he didn't go by Ernest. The only identity he had was the name the people had given him - "split lip."
Ernest visited with former patients who let him know he is loved and valued. For the first time, he could speak with peers to ask questions and express his thoughts, fears, and feelings. At Love Without Reason holistic care is key in igniting Ernest's mental and emotional health recovery. The devoted team will spend each opportunity with Ernest to identify dreams and challenge him to see that his precious life has a great purpose and future.
In 2021, Ernest will be able to return to complete surgery. Ernest will continue his journey through his recovery process—reassured of his identity as a human worthy of love, respect, and dignity. Our experience has shown each patient's mindset shifts as they understand their unique identity and purpose that they can only achieve.
As the team of volunteers walked through the Harare Hospital's pediatric ward, one of the
mothers stopped them. Tears were flowing down her face as her little body shook with
Love Without Reason specialists, staff, and volunteers know the importance of helping each person bring a voice to their stories, consider their feelings, and provide a safe space.
Heartened by the volunteer's encouragement, she began, "Grace was born with a cleft lip seven months before, and she was perfect to me," her mother said. "My husband despised her, so he told me to stay in our home and not interact with the villagers. Everyone soon realized that something was wrong with my baby. And they all talked about her. They called me names. They said God cursed me. The weeks went by, and my baby continued to grow. But the villagers were not happy with me. They complained to the chief all the time about my daughter and me. "
Mothers experience unimaginable hurdles in impoverished countries. A baby with cleft adds the challenge of having no way to pay for travel and medical costs, where to access healthcare, how to feed their baby. Many don't know that these babies are born into communities with superstitious beliefs and misconceptions about a cleft lip-palate.
For Grace, weeks without rain and the community's dying crops meant a low harvest; everyone was in danger of starvation. "The village chief declared that our village was cursed. And it was cursed because of my baby, Grace. He made plans to murder my baby." Learning of his plans, Grace's mother courageously resolved to leave the village.
Love Without Reason partners with phone companies in Africa to reach out via SMS text messages. One of her friends showed her our SMS text that announced free cleft surgeries in Harare's capital city. The capital was a one-day bus ride from her village.
She did not know what would happen once in the city, but she knew that this was Grace's only chance. That day she found a way to escape the village. She boarded the bus to Harare and was among the first to arrive at the hospital gates early for the Sunday morning medical camp. She decided that her daughter will experience a good life.
She wept with gratitude as she expressed her joy, "I was so glad that Grace was healthy and strong enough for surgery. I just wanted to tell you all how much I thank you for saving our lives. We will go back home, and I know my family will receive us and celebrate Grace."
In a tiny home on the outskirts of Harare, the village children were running and playing in
their bare feet. Polite was one of the tallest in the group of boys, and with his cleft lip, he
definitely stood out.
Polite's mother lived in the tiny home with her sister. He introduced us to his mother, her
sister, his siblings, and his extended family.
As we talked, Polite's mother mentioned that life had been hard for Polite. Polite was the youngest of her four children. "He was our first son, after having three girls. His father was so proud to have a son – until he saw Polite's face." He was so angry that he left, and to this day, the family doesn't know where he is.
Love Without Reason provides educational workshops about what causes cleft lip and palate—developing awareness of how surgeries can correct congenital craniofacial differences. We hope to change the deceptive stigma that caused Polite to live with rejection and ridicule for many years.
Polite smiles today because of our incredible donors. Polite's cleft lip repaired, his heart and mind began to imagine achieving his dream of becoming a pilot. He expects great things out of his life.
"Please don't stop doing surgery with just Polite. Find all the children and help them just like you helped us. Thank you for helping Polite and changing his smile." His mother insisted as we said our goodbyes. Each donor's contribution, no matter the amount, helps us do just that.