Shan and his wife Am Swe live in a remote and isolated area of Myanmar controlled by a regional army, which is unofficially called the WA State. The couple works long and difficult hours on a rubber plantation, yet earn the combined local equivalent of £170 annually.
In 2012, Shan and Am Swe were surprised that their first child San had been born with a cleft lip, but they fell in love with him immediately. Although the family was unaware that cleft surgery was possible, they agreed they would give him all the extra love and care possible in hopes that he could live a happy life.
Unfortunately, there were some people living in the area who weren’t as accepting of San’s cleft lip. Shan recalled that he initially heard a few people whispering insults behind his back, but it wasn’t long before misinformation and intolerance of San’s cleft lip grew and the family were shouted at with insults, too horrible to repeat, directly to their faces. Shan and Am Swe feared for their lives with these increasingly brazen attacks.
San was a happy kid at home, especially when spending time with his father Shan, but, after years of rejection from his peers who mistakenly believed that the cleft lip was communicable, he started becoming reclusive and downtrodden. Fearing that his son would lose his gentle spirit and smile forever, Shan said he prayed for a miracle every day.
Shan’s miracle came by the way of Sunny, a volunteer with Northern Women’s Development Foundation, who was visiting the remote region and distributing information about free cleft surgeries at the military hospital in Shan State sponsored by Smile Train. Upon learning about this incredible opportunity, Shan and San took off for the two-day journey to a new smile.
At the hospital, Shan learned that cleft was a common medical condition and that other families had needlessly struggled with stigma, misinformation, and discrimination.
After San cleared his medical evaluation, he received his Smile Train sponsored cleft surgery. The first person he saw when he woke up was his father.
Before leaving, Shan said, “Thank you, Smile Train. My son has a beautiful smile!” Shan believes that the family’s exclusion from their community will finally end and his son can live a happy and healthy life, just like every other child.
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