Her name is Jane Rose

Jane Rose longed to be called by her name. Writing it repeatedly in her notebook, the spirited 7-year-old hoped that the dream she wrote on paper would eventually come true.

But in reality, she faced almost constant bullying because of her cleft condition from many children in her community who refused to call her anything besides “bungi,” a derogatory word for cleft.

Seven-year-old Jane Rose, before. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

“My heart breaks every time I hear them bully her. The only way to stop it is to get her cleft lip repaired. They will not stop otherwise,” said Eutigio, Jane Rose’s father.

Jane Rose loves going to school and is very intelligent. She refused to give in to her abusers.

With big dreams of one day becoming a teacher, she felt determined to attend school each day despite the constant bullying.

Jane Rose's father, Eutigio, watches as his daughter completes her homework. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

Her family lives in a house made of bamboo in Cebu City, Philippines. With no access to electricity or water in their home, Jane Rose and her family share the only nearby well with the many neighbours in the area.

Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, is a region where cleft conditions are more common than the rest of the world – around one in 500 children are born with a cleft condition. The global average is closer to one in 750 births.

Even though there are skilled plastic surgeons in the country – some who volunteer with Operation Smile – most families can’t afford the cost of surgery.

It broke Eutigio’s heart knowing that as a garbage collector, the cost of surgery for Jane Rose was beyond his means.

In the past, he’s tried twice to get his daughter this life-changing surgery for free through other organisations.

But both times, Jane Rose was denied because of health issues.

With each failed attempt, Eutigio’s anxiety and worry for his daughter deepened.

“My biggest fear is that she’ll grow up being bullied all her life,” he said.

Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

It wasn’t until Eutigio learned about Operation Smile Philippines that he believed and hoped their third attempt at surgery would be different.

Upon arriving at the medical mission, Jane Rose and her father felt excited at the thought that this could be the opportunity for which they’ve been waiting.

“I am very happy to be here,” Eutigio said. “There are so many children here with the same problem. I thought it was only our family.”

After the screening process, medical volunteers were thrilled to tell Eutigio the good news.

Operation Smile medical volunteers check Jane Rose's vitals during screening to ensure that she's healthy enough to undergo anaesthesia for her surgery during a 2015 medical mission in Cebu. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

“I am so happy she passed all the health examinations since this is the third time we’ve tried. I am very happy and very thankful,” Eutigio said.

It was finally time for Jane Rose to receive the surgery she always deserved.

A surgery that can take 45 minutes changed her life forever.

The day after her cleft repair surgery, Jane Rose stared at her new smile in the mirror, not taking her eyes away from what she saw.

“I’m so happy that she looks so beautiful. Thank you!” said Eutigio.

Eutigio sees Jane Rose's new smile for the first time. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.
Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

Years have passed since Jane Rose’s surgery, and so many aspects of her life have changed during that time.

Today, Jane Rose continues to excel in her studies at school. According to her teacher, Jane Rose is very involved and intelligent. She even received a medal for the time she spent studying.

With her newfound confidence after surgery, Jane Rose participated in a school mini pageant and has gained many friends.

But the greatest and most noticeable change is how the children who once bullied her now call her by her real name. At last, she’s living out her dream that once occupied the lines of her notebook.

Jane Rose plays with friends at her home one year after receiving surgery from Operation Smile Philippines. Photo: Jorgen Hildebrandt.

Eutigio hopes that Jane Rose will now be able to follow her dreams, finish school, and become a teacher.

“She will have a better future now,” he said.

Today, nobody bullies or teases her – many have no idea that Jane Rose was born with a cleft lip.

“I am not a ‘bungi’ anymore, I am just beautiful,” Jane Rose said.

Jane Rose, today. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.