Photo: Jasmin Shah.
Nearly three years ago, Safia gave birth alone at home to her son, Radouane. Although seeing his cleft lip made her question what kind of future her son would have, the love Safia had for him only strengthened.
“I was not afraid. I’d seen kids like that before, and I knew that this was the gods’ fate. I’m grateful for what the gods gave me,” Safia said.
Friends and family members felt only love toward Radouane after seeing his cleft lip for the first time, looking at him without malice or disgust.
“Where I come from, people were so friendly and supportive,” Safia said. “They said that he’s just another human. He’s not that different.”
Sadly, there were people in their community who let their lack of knowledge and stigma surrounding cleft conditions influence their ability to treat Radouane and Safia with the kindness they deserve.
“Each person who mocks him is mocking themselves,” Safia said. “It shows that they weren’t raised well, and that shouldn’t be the case.”
Last October, Safia learned about Operation Smile Morocco. Her eldest son saw the organisation’s Facebook page and read that it provides free surgical care for children like Radouane. Hopeful that she’d found a solution for her son, Safia travelled to the organisation’s care centre in Oujda where medical volunteers and staff began the initial stages of his cleft care process.
It was at the centre that Operation Smile Morocco informed Safia that her son would have an opportunity to receive surgery at its next medical mission taking place in Agadir.
But with Agadir being more than 600 miles away and having her other children at home to think about, Safia knew she couldn’t make that journey.
After patiently waiting nearly five months, the time came for Safia and Radouane to leave their small village located on the countryside and head toward Oujda for Operation Smile Morocco’s March mission.
Safia travelled to the nearest province of Taourirt, where some of their family members live. Three days later, Safia departed from their relatives home and journeyed two and a half hours by bus, determined to be some of the first people to arrive.
On the first day of screening, Safia and Radouane sat among hundreds of families of children living with unrepaired cleft conditions who’d all been brought together for the same reason – to get their child life-changing care from Operation Smile.
Initially shy and quiet, Radouane remained glued to his mother’s side and wary of the unfamiliar environment.
But slowly, Radouane’s cheerful and outgoing personality bloomed, and volunteers soon heard his infectious laugh across the screening site. As Safia watched her son run around stomping bubbles and playing with other children, the love and pride she had for him was evident.
“He’s my son. I love him, no matter what,” she said.
Later that same day, Safia received the news that Radouane had passed his comprehensive health evaluation and was cleared for surgery. She felt confident that, with safe surgery, her joyful son could live a happy and healthy life and receive an education just like her other children.
A few days later, after volunteers guided her back to the recovery room where Radouane began to slowly wake up from surgery, Safia couldn’t help but smile as she held him in her arms.
“I’m so grateful for the volunteers who are here. If you don’t help these children, who will?”
Eight-month-old Elmehdi and his mum, Soumia.
The shock Soumia, mother to 8-month-old Elmehdi, felt after giving birth turned to determination in her journey of actively seeking out a solution for her son.
“When he was born, I was scared,” Soumia said. “I didn’t know what a cleft lip was. I’d never heard of it.”
It was through social media that Soumia heard about the Operation Smile Morocco’s medical mission in Oujda. Finally seeing a solution in sight, Soumia channelled that hope to empower herself to keep going and to never let anything prevent them from getting Elmehdi the care he needed.
“I live in Tafoughalt. It took me two hours to get here. I took the bus. I’m tired, but I want my baby to get help,” Soumia said.
Elmehdi smiled as he and his family continued through each stage of the screening process. After Elmehdi passed his comprehensive health evaluation and was selected to receive surgery, Soumia expressed her relief and appreciation to the volunteers involved with this mission and every other Operation Smile mission.
“Everyone is so nice. I’m so grateful to Operation Smile. I’m happy and Elmehdi is happy,” she said.
Photo: Jasmin Shah.
On a day that’s oftentimes the happiest of a mother’s life, Khadija felt fear and uncertainty when she looked at her daughter, Meriem.
“For the first two hours, I was so scared. But slowly, I accepted the fact that I had a daughter with a cleft lip,” Khadija said. “It’s God’s fate. God creates us the way he wants.”
Khadija’s friends and family instantly loved Meriem, treating her and cherishing her like any other child in their family.
For many parents living in low- and middle-income countries, with children who are born with cleft conditions, safe surgical care is often inaccessible or unknown. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case for Khadija.
Immediately after giving birth, she learned that surgery was possible, which allowed Khadija to remain hopeful and confident that her baby girl would one day receive a new and beautiful smile.
But for many families who lack the awareness or knowledge of organisations like Operation Smile, they spend months, or even years, never knowing that there are solutions out there for their children.
The doctor who helped Khadija give birth calmed her fears and shared that Operation Smile Morocco could help her and her daughter.
“Despite the fact that I’d already accepted her no matter what, it was such a relief to know that there was a solution,” Khadija said.
While Khadija always cherished her daughter the way she was, others from their community treated Meriem with disdain, regarding her as someone who didn’t matter.
“What I found the most challenging was people pointing at my daughter for being different. Not my family, but the strangers would ask, ‘Why is she like that?’ and wondered if I was responsible for the cleft,” she said.
After learning about this upcoming mission, Khadija didn’t hesitate to make the 12-hour journey from Casablanca.
Now, looking at Meriem’s new smile, Khadija said that she’s relieved her daughter will never have to endure teasing or hear the hurtful comments people once said.
“My wish for my daughter is that she will get a good education. She will grow up and live a normal life.”