To smile with confidence: Kids with oral cleft in Tacloban get free surgery

By: - Reporter / @DYGalvezINQ
/ 11:12 PM November 16, 2018

They say a child’s smile is the sweetest thing in the world. It could be a source of warmth and joy not only to the child but those blessed with its presence.

For children with cleft deformities, however, this proves to be different as they are sometimes teased and bullied for their smiles.


But through courage and kindness, these children are being given hope.

Over a hundred children with cleft lips and palates in Tacloban City were given the gift of a beautiful smile this November.


From Nov. 11 to 16, children and young adults with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities were given free and safe surgery by a team of medical volunteers from the civic group Operation Smile.

The mission was held at the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in Tacloban City.

“Most of the cleft cases are born to poor families who cannot afford the cost of commercial surgery,” Operation Smile Philippines executive director Angel Mojica said.

“Left untreated, they will be bullied, lose their self-esteem and grow uneducated with hardly any chance of finding gainful employment later in adulthood,” she added.

Operation Smile is the world’s largest children’s charity dedicated to providing free cleft surgery. It has mobilized more than 5,000 volunteers in 80 countries and treated over 350,000 children and young adults since its founding in 1982.

The charity has treated more than 32,000 Filipinos with oral cleft through the 337 missions it has mounted in 88 cities and municipalities.

For the Tacloban mission, 47 volunteers and care professionals from 10 countries — Australia, Canada, Ghana, Italy, Madagascar, Philippines, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States — came in full force to care for the patients.


This team was comprised of plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatric intensivists, pediatricians, dentists, nurses, clinical coordinators, speech pathologists, child life specialists, patient-imaging technicians and medical records and documentation personnel.

Through the efforts and kindness of these people who were willing to extend a helping hand, nearly 120 children are now able to smile with confidence.

Aside from the medical team, there are unsung civilian volunteers who dedicated prayers and moral support for the project.

There were mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and loved ones who never gave up hope and continued their unwavering support for these children in need.

There is one teacher from Dagami, Leyte, who went the extra mile for her 11-year old student Joann to get free cleft lip repair.

Failani Justimbaste, a Grade 2 teacher at Balilit Elementary School in Dagami, was determined for her student Joann to have her beautiful smile and gain her confidence that she sacrificed a whole day of class to make sure Joann makes it for her screening and surgery.

“Masakit sa akin pag naririnig ko siyang binubully ng mga classmates niya. Mahiyain yung bata pero malaki ang potential at mahaba ang pasensya,” Justimbaste said.

“If I don’t act now, no one else will be able to help her,” Justimbaste added.

There is one 64-year-old grandmother from Ormoc, Leyte who wanted surgery for her 20-year-old grandson Jasper Bacale to have the best shot in life as he is on his way to finish his electrical engineering degree.

Even though Jasper is being bullied by his looks and it is difficult for him to express himself, he continues to strive hard to finish college.

There are mothers and fathers and family members who braved long hours of commute and long hours of waiting so that their children could have that “sparkle” in their smiles.

The unwavering courage of these people paved the way for these children’s attainment of happiness.

The medical mission in Tacloban would not have been possible without the resources and manpower from the Watsons Personal Care Store Philippines.

The mission in Tacloban is the last of three missions the company has sponsored this year. The first one in Dumaguete City in September where they treated 48 patients, while the second one was in Iloilo City in October wherein they provided free surgery to 108 patients.

Some 585 Watsons Philippines employees have rendered volunteer work — logging a total of 7,020-man hours — in the mission. /jpv

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TAGS: child's smile, cleft, Cleft Lip, Cleft Palate, feature story, free surgery, Local news, medical mission, Operation Smile, Philippine news update
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