It’s Never Too Late to Dream

21 April 2020 | Smile Train

In 1953, Maria was born with a cleft lip in rural Kenya. As a child living with an untreated cleft, she was often ill and teased at every turn.

Maria felt like the luckiest woman on earth when she met a man who loved her as she was — and luckier still when he asked her to marry him.

Maria before her cleft surgery

Maria and her husband had three children together, and she became a grandmother, then great-grandmother – all while living with an untreated cleft.

Maria with her grandchildren in front of home

Maria had to miss out on countless community events and celebrations with her loved ones because she knew the other mums and grandmums didn’t want her there because of the way she looked. Though she accepted her fate, she never stopped daydreaming of a life where she could play with her 16 great-grandchildren in the open with no stares or whispers, where everyone saw her as her family did.

Maria in front of her door

At age 65, Maria met a health worker from Smile Train partner IcFEM Dreamland Hospital, who shared that she could have the cleft surgery she’d dreamed about at no cost to the family. Maria was skeptical. It seemed too good to be true, and her son David told her she was too old for surgery. But Maria knew she was strong – she’d been underestimated her entire life. Full of resolve, and with dreams of a better life, she walked for two days to get to the hospital.

Maria with a big smile after her cleft surgery

When Maria arrived at IcFEM Dreamland she was quickly assured that her faith had been rewarded.  After some health screenings (which she passed with flying colours, as she later told David) she received her free Smile Train-supported surgery.

Maria smiles with her grandchildren

Now, Maria smiles as she teaches her grandchildren and great-grandchildren that anything they dream can be possible. “Thank you, Smile Train, for finally letting me smile at my beautiful family,” she said.

Maria smiles with her grandchildren


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