Rowena thinks her daughter, one year-old Shaina, was born with a cleft lip because she fell from a hammock when she was seven months pregnant. “I feel sorry for my child,” Rowena says, “I cry sometimes and blame myself for what happened to my daughter.”
Rowena heard about the upcoming Operation Smile medical project through United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), where her aunt works. She was told about the project on a Friday and screening started the next Sunday. “I never imagined there would be a free operation,” Rowena says.
They live in a remote location and had it not been for UCCP, they may have never heard about Operation Smile. Before her daughter was born, Rowena had only seen extreme cases of cleft lips and palates, like a bilateral complete cleft, but never minor cases, like Shaina’s unilateral incomplete cleft lip.
Rowena traveled eight hours with Shaina, who always has her hair in a topknot or curly pigtails, on a bus from Cotabato City to arrive to the project site in Davao. When they arrived, Rowena was surprised by all the children with similar facial differences. “I feel sad that there are so many children with cleft lips, but also relieved to learn that my child is not the only one in this situation.”
Even though Shaina was the only kid in the neighborhood with a cleft lip, Rowena never hid Shaina away. “I’m proud of my daughter,” she says.
Shaina can’t really talk yet. She only knows words like “mama” and “papa” and thinks she came to the medical project to play. When Shaina’s name appeared on the list of patients to receive surgeries, Rowena is relieved. Shaina might not grasp the situation, but Rowena realises her daughter’s future will be brighter after the surgery. Additionally, Rowena says she can now stop blaming herself for her daughter’s cleft lip.
Rowena is overcome with joy when she meets her daughter in the recovery room after just a forty-minute surgery. “She looks beautiful and I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s all healed,” Rowena says with a gleaming smile.
When asked what she’d like to say to Operation Smile, she responds, “Thank you, this is a big help.” As text messages seem to be the preferred method of communication in the Philippines, Rowena has already sent one to her husband, a construction worker, to tell him the news.
As Rowena and Shaina got ready to leave the post-operative room after a night under the nurses’ vigilance, Rowena says, “I love my child with or without a cleft lip, but now she won’t be called names because she has changed already.”