It’s never too late for a new beginning

Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. We’re helping frontline health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

Yohana spent most of her life without the acceptance of her community. 

As an adult living with a cleft condition, she’d endured decades of people calling her hurtful names.

In addition to the torment she experienced, Yohana became even more isolated with the passing of her husband. Losing someone who’d loved and cared for her despite her cleft condition was almost too much pain for her to bear.

But Yohana refused to give up.

With a sister who was also born with a cleft condition, Yohana knew she wasn’t alone. But growing up wasn’t easy for her.

Having never learned about the actual causes of cleft, which can be hereditary or environmental, members of their village believed that God put a spell on Yohana’s mother, causing the sisters to be born with cleft conditions.

With beliefs and misconceptions like these deeply rooted in the minds of people living in communities around the world, harmful stigma leads to people like Yohana and her sister experiencing severe emotional pain and social isolation.

Just like Yohana, millions of people living in low- and middle-income countries are still enduring needless suffering because they’re unable to receive surgery early in their lives.

Not only are families unable to afford to travel to the nearest hospital, let alone the cost of an operation, they are also facing the barrier of local communities not having enough skilled surgeons and nurses to meet the medical demands.

Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Having witnessed her sister receive cleft lip surgery from another organisation years before, Yohana felt relieved to know that a solution existed, but she feared she’d never be able to afford the cost of surgery.

As a subsistence farmer, she cultivates only enough food and livestock to meet her needs.

After living 51 years with an unrepaired cleft condition, Yohana never imagined she’d ever receive the surgery she deserved.

Then one day, everything changed.

Just days after Yohana heard a radio announcement promoting Operation Smile Ghana, a medical non-profit that provides free surgeries for people living with cleft conditions, a patient coordinator from the organisation arrived in her village.

For the first time in her life, Yohana had hope, and she happily registered for the upcoming medical mission.

Two months after learning about the possibility of free and safe surgery to repair her cleft lip, Yohana and other potential patients boarded a bus that took them to the mission site in Ho.

The following day, medical volunteers performed her comprehensive health care assessment to determine if she was healthy enough to undergo anaesthesia.

With patient safety as our greatest priority, all people seeking care during a mission must pass a comprehensive health evaluation, which screens for any potential health issues that could impact their procedure and ensures that each patient receives the highest quality medical care.

Yohana marveled at the love shown to her by everyone at Operation Smile.

Their kindness made her feel comfortable and helped to quell her anxiety about surgery.

Hearing that she was placed on the surgical schedule, Yohana couldn’t wait to embrace her brighter future. Instead of feeling alone and being called hateful names, she would finally be known as Yohana to everyone.

Before surgery, Yohana was relaxed and confident that her lifelong struggles with her image would soon change. What she looked forward to the most was for the people who once mocked her to see her new smile.

Yohana, one year after surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Yohana’s only son accompanied her to the mission and was eager to call the whole family to tell them about the successful surgery.

After Yohana returned home, the community that once shunned her celebrated her transformation.

“I used to be laughed at, but now, nobody laughs at me,” Yohana said. “Thank you, Operation Smile, for changing my life.”

Help us to continue keeping our promise to patients like Yohana amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Your support today means we can help patients through these uncertain times and provide them with the care and surgery they deserve when it’s safe to resume our work.

Photo: Margherita Mirabella.