Fred's Journey to a smile

Fred was born with a cleft lip and palate. He was unable to breastfeed because he couldn't close his lips, so the milk would go back up his nose and he would be unable to swallow. Though they could barely afford it, Fred's mother Sissy gave the boy cow's milk in the world's poorest countries, many mothers sit for hours dripping milk into their children's mouths and mashed his bananas, all in an effort to keep him alive for another day. Every time Fred ate or drank, the food and liquids seeped through the hole in the roof of his mouth and down the side of his face.


Due to these difficulties, most children in poor countries with untreated cleft lip and palate die of malnutrition before their first birthday. Fred, however, had made it to six years old, earning him the nickname “Survivor”.

A Life of Isolation

Eating and drinking weren’t the only hardships endured by the boy as a result of his cleft lip and palate, though. The other neighborhood children would laugh, tease, and ridicule him. So Fred would remain in his family’s small home, feeling isolated, humiliated, and alone. Fred’s father, Yusuf, said, “The older he gets, the more people will laugh. He won’t fit in society.”

The cleft lip and palate also made speaking a challenge for Fred. He had a hard time forming words properly, his speech slurred and difficult to understand. As a result, Fred had never been to school. “Fred said he won’t go to school if his mouth isn’t fixed,” his mother explained. “He knows the kids will all laugh at him.” His parents were fully aware, though, that if Fred doesn’t get an education, he’d be locked in poverty for the rest of his life.

Fred’s mother, Sissy, sells charcoal, tomatoes, and maize to provide for her family. Often, there are no customers. Fred’s father, Yusuf, is a builder/laborer, but he doesn’t get that many contracts. Two of their five children live with Sissy’s sister, because there isn’t room for them in their small one-room rented home.

Their financial situation meant that surgery was unaffordable. The longer they waited, though, the more problematic the operation would become, because the gap in the upper plate grew wider every year. Also, the older he got the more difficult it would become to teach him to speak after the repair work was completed.

A Surgery to Smile About

Then, a CBM worker met Fred. The boy’s family was overjoyed to hear that CBM supporters would fund the operation and treatment! Fred would look like the other children, he would be able to eat and drink properly, and he would start speech therapy. Eventually, he would also be able to start school! Fred’s father said, “Right now, I’m feeling good that Fred will get help. Before I was feeling bad. I wanted Fred to be taken for surgery, but I didn’t have the money.”

After the surgery, Fred immediately started to feel more confident. He used to be afraid to go out in public, but after the operation he even helps his mother sell food at her market stall. No one laughs at him anymore. His eating improved as well. “Fred’s appetite is much bigger now and he eats a lot more,” his mother said. “Especially rice and cabbage they’re his favorite.” When Fred goes to church, he thanks God for what He has done for him.

RBA CBM co-worker made a follow-up visit with Fred and his family. Fred was wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses and cap he and his brother, Robert, had bought from the money they had made fetching water and sodas for people. With a smile on her face and a giggle in her voice, Sissy said Fred is trying to look like famous Ugandan musician Bobby Wine.

She told the CBM worker that for several weeks after the surgery, Fred repeatedly dreamt about the operation that had already taken place. While looking approvingly at Fred, Sissy said, “Fred would wake up in the middle of the night and get a mirror, look inside and smile. The following morning he would stand in front of the mirror again and feel his mouth, lips, and nose and feel happy.”

“It’s a good dream,” Fred said. For the boy, it is certainly a dream come true.



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