Born in 2005 with a bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate, Dina Alexander has struggled to communicate for nearly a decade. Just last month, Dina’s grandmother Benigna heard on the radio that Operation Smile was coming to Chinandega, Nicaragua to do a week-long medical mission.
“I felt so very joyful because I knew that that this was my chance to do something life changing for my granddaughter,” said Benigna.
Dina lives nearly a dozen hours away from Chinandega, so her and her grandmother had a long way to travel. They spent a full day on horseback followed by a long bus ride, arriving to Chinandega in time for screening. For the first time, Dina met 277 children and adults similar to herself.
“Seeing Dina before was like a light was missing from her eyes, but being here surrounded by children and adults who have struggled through similar situations has added a new spark to her,” Benigna said. “I have never seen her this alive.”
From what I witnessed, Dina is one of those children who has one of those infectious laughs, the type that take over her whole body and can’t help but make you smile. When we first met, she was running back and forth between patients and volunteers, giddy with laughter and hugging everyone she encountered. Because of her personality, Dina and her grandmother have become very popular among the 111 patients undergoing surgery on the current Operation Smile mission.
When I had a chance to sit down with her grandmother and discuss how this is going to change Dina’s life, her face lit up with excitement as she described the future.
“I know there is a huge barrier between Dina and the kids in her community, which has been so hard to witness,” she said. “I hope that this change in her allows her to communicate and make more friends.”
Although she is nearly 9 years old, Dina has never attended school due to inability to communicate effectively, but her grandmother and family have big plans for her.
“Once she is able to speak so that people can understand her we will send her to school. My biggest dream is this allows her to have her future open with many possibilities,” Benigna said. “Coming here and seeing the trust that these doctors are taking care of her is a beautiful thing.”