The following is a firsthand account of Smile Train’s Community Fundraising Manager Ikiah McGowan’s recent visit to Smile Train partners and patients in Ghana.
I spent much of my first year at Smile Train telling the community fundraisers that I work with about the incredible impact our cleft treatment partners are having around the world, but it was always second-hand accounts as I’ve never actually seen their work in person. So, when the opportunity came for me to visit our partners in Ghana, I jumped at the opportunity.
First, I did some research. I learned that Smile Train has worked in Ghana since 2004 and that our six local partner hospitals have performed 2,000+ cleft repair surgeries and many more comprehensive treatment programmes, such as speech therapy. Ghana seemed like the perfect place to see on my first time in the field.
My first stop was at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi. I was greeted by longtime Smile Train partner surgeons Dr Alex Acheampong and Dr Solomon Obiri, who allowed me to join their consultations. I was touched by the compassion and empathy they showed to these families that desperately needed assistance. The doctors treated these strangers like they were old friends, and I could see the worry melt away as the parents recognised that their children were in very loving and capable hands.
In the waiting room, I met the family of 1-month-old Beverly, who incredibly handed her over to me as though I was one of her aunties — I loved every minute! I learned that some areas of Ghana still consider cleft birth as supernatural and that discrimination is still a big problem. Looking at Beverly, I didn’t understand how anyone could consider her anything less than a blessing.
The next day, I travelled to Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital in Akuapim, where I had a front row seat to witness 7-month-old Seshie’s cleft lip surgery, performed by the calm and steady hands of Dr Kwame Abrokwa-Yankyera. In 45 minutes,Seshie had a brand-new forever smile!
Then, at the ward for recovering patients, I met 5-month-old Rachel and 2-year-old Godwin, who were recovering from cleft lip and cleft palate surgery, respectively.
As a special treat, I got to meet a former patient , Hefsa, at her home. The sleepy 7-month-old dozed off in her mother’s arms as her father discussed the incredible impact of her treatment. He shared, “Hefsa before the surgery and after the surgery were two completely different children.”
I was able to sit in on speech treatment in Accra and witness one component of our comprehensive cleft care in action. Speech partner Nana Owusu told me that patients often have difficulty finding the time and transportation to attend routine therapy. So, to make up for lost time, the centre hosts intensive speech camps for cleft patients during school breaks.
I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed the magical work of our cleft partners in Ghana. The journey has reinforced all the work I have put in, and it feels great to be a small part of the puzzle that spreads hope and joy to these families. I’d like to thank the West Africa Smile Train staff and all our local partners for hosting me for this once in a lifetime adventure.
If you would like to help us provide forever smiles to children in Ghana and other countries with Smile Train programmes around the world, please make a gift today.
If you are interested in seeing Smile Train’s impact firsthand, just like Ikiah, please visit the Journey of Smiles section of our site.