When Violet Taku heard about the work that her friend Dr Sammy Oben was involved with, she instantly felt compelled to join him. Dr Oben was and still is a Smile Train partner surgeon — he told Violet all about Smile Train’s “teach a man to fish” model and the lives that were being transformed with free cleft surgeries.
Violet was delighted when she found out there was an open position for a program assistant in Cameroon. Violet’s background and passion for helping others made her the perfect fit for the job. Ever since joining the team, Violet has worked tirelessly to build capacity in the region by creating awareness of Smile Train programmes, recruiting skilled medical partners, and searching high and low for cleft lip and palate patients.
Finding children living with untreated clefts is especially challenging in Cameroon due to regional language barriers. Violet shared, “There are 230 languages spoken, and many of the people living in rural areas can’t understand our national languages of English and French. As I travel, I often have to depend on the kindness of volunteer translators to spread the word about Smile Train and find children in need.”
Violet’s work is paying off, as hospital employees around the country now call her whenever they hear about a baby born with a cleft. However, she says that the high rate of home births leave many poor and remote children left behind. “It’s extremely motivating knowing that there are thousands of families who have never heard of Smile Train, who are in desperate need of hope. I gladly take the ferry down river or bicycle deep into the forest to find them,” she said.
Violet’s success in Cameroon allowed for her to expand Smile Train programmes in Chad — a country in the midst of war when she started working there. In just her first two weeks working in Chad, local partners were able to provide free cleft surgeries to 300 children. Violet’s goal is to expand programmes into Gabon, Guinea, Central African Republic, and the Republic of Congo as well.
The director of a local Smile Train partner hospital asked Violet how she was able to work so hard, sometimes without rest and food. “Every child we reach changes a life. When you are driven by passion, you don’t see the limitations,” she answered.
Join Violet and become a #SmileMaker by changing your Facebook profile picture in honour of National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month. Click here to learn more and help provide smiles to children in need.