The Student Becomes an Educator

16 May 2019 | Smile Train

When Rona held her newborn son David for the first time at a small clinic in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, she noticed that he had a gap in his upper lip. Rona was upset with the clinic staff, assuming that they had carelessly injured her son with their medical instruments. The nurses eventually assured Rona that the “gap” was actually a cleft lip and that it had been formed in the womb.

Rona at her home

Rona had many questions about cleft lip and what treatment options were available for David, but the staff were unable to answer most of them. They did, however, know that Smile Train’s local partner, Harare Hospital, were experts on cleft and would be able to help the family.

Rona’s remembers her first visit to Harare Hospital very vividly and said that it marked the moment when her despair turned into hope. “When we walked in, we saw children who had already received cleft surgery – they were happy and playing. There were so many families in our same situation. The doctors answered every one of our questions and comforted us,” she said. David’s cleft lip surgery was scheduled, and the family would return in a few short months.

Rona at her home

When Rona returned home, she learned that many of her friends, family, and neighbours had many of the same questions about cleft that she had asked at the clinic. “They never criticised me; they were just curious about David’s cleft. Every time I left the house, I was answering questions about David’s cleft to someone new. I also told them that they should send any other children with an untreated cleft to Harare Hospital,” she said.

Rona said she felt prepared when David’s cleft surgery finally came, but it still was an emotional day. She shared, “They put him in a gown. I held his hand while they administered the anaesthesia. Then they wheeled him away.” The longest minutes of Rona’s life were made better by phone calls from her friends and family – many reminded Rona of her own stories that she’d shared of children leaving Harare Hospital totally transformed.

David poses with his mom

Rona met David in the recovery room as he woke up from anaesthesia. “Even in bandages, he looked amazing.” Then, before leaving the hospital, the medical staff shared how to properly care for the sutures and offered a checkup in a few days to ensure that everything was healing as it should.

David poses with his sisters

“When the stitches came out, all our family and neighbours came over to our home and shared how the result was even better than they expected,” Rona said.

David at his home

“Without Smile Train’s support, our family would never have been able to afford treatment,” said Rona. “I have learned from other patients at the hospital that growing up with an [untreated] cleft is incredibly difficult. I want to thank the donors from the bottom of my heart for saving my son from that kind of hardship.”

David with his friends

Today, David is an outgoing child who can nearly always be found outside the house, playing with his two sisters and many friends. The sky is literally the limit for David, as his dream is to become an airline pilot.

If you would like to help us enable forever smiles and second chances at life for children like David and help mothers like Rona provide equal opportunities for their children, please make a gift today.