Things were difficult for Ngok when her daughter, Leap, was born. “I had never seen anybody with a cleft before and didn’t know what it was,” she said.
She worried for the girl’s future — not only whether she would be able to go to school or marry, but whether she would even live to see the next day: Leap’s cleft made nursing nearly impossible, and her constant screams of hunger brought threats from the neighbours.
She survived infanthood to grow into a life of constriction. Though the community included her in social gatherings and her school treated her well, she was too shy and too ashamed of the way she was born to venture far outside the family’s farm in a remote part of Cambodia.
Leap was 15 years old the day her mother found her, glowing with a joy so pure and complete she looked for a moment like a different woman, with news that she just learnt that there was an organisation called Smile Train that would sponsor the full cost of cleft treatment the nearby Monorom Clinic. Mother and daughter nearly floated together to the clinic for Leap’s evaluation. But as the day Leap had spent her whole life dreaming of drew nearer, she found her excitement giving way to nervousness. She had never been in a hospital before. “I was very scared before the operation; I had no idea about what was going to happen,” she said. “But when I came out and looked at myself in the mirror, I was so happy!”
Smiling back at her from that mirror was the not-quite-familiar face of a woman with the confidence to dream of a better tomorrow. It was a bit overwhelming. “I don’t know if I want a boyfriend now,” she laughed. “I don’t know what kind of a job I would like yet or if I want a family. What I do know is that if I meet anyone else with a cleft, I will tell them immediately where to go to have the surgery.”
Give more children like Leap the freedom to live and thrive with a donation to Smile Train.