A life free from bullying

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Growing up with a cleft condition in her rural village in Malawi was extremely challenging for Tereza. She was constantly teased and bullied and was often called ‘an animal’ or ‘half a person’. Tereza was completely ostracised from village life. The harassment eventually got so bad that she abandoned her schooling and isolated herself from her neighbours and other members of her community.

In 2014, a child with a cleft condition in her village was able to attend an Operation Smile medical mission, but sadly, Tereza did not have enough money for the bus fare to the medical mission site. When the child returned to their community with a beautiful new smile, Tereza was determined to find a way to attend the next Operation Smile medical mission. Tereza’s perseverance paid off — she was able to make contact with Operation Smile Malawi and worked with them to arrange free transportation to the medical mission site!

When she arrived at the medical mission, Tereza was immediately taken aback by the number of people who were in need of cleft surgery. Although she knew of a few people in her area with her condition, she was shocked to see so many people who looked like her. Tereza was even more surprised with the number of volunteers who had turned out to help those living with cleft conditions considering how badly she had always been treated because of her cleft lip.

Even though most people would find an Operation Smile medical mission to be a hectic environment, Tereza found tranquillity. During her few days at the medical mission site, she didn’t have to worry about being bullied or called names — a first for Tereza. When Tereza learned that she was scheduled for surgery, her heart filled with happiness. “When I have my surgery, it will be like I am born again. I will be a new person!” 

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After a successful surgery, Tereza returned home excited to engage more with the people in her community. “Before surgery, I did not want to go out because people always laughed at me. Now I am living a free life!” She shared that before surgery, she never looked happy in her photos, but now she can't stop smiling. Tereza plans to educate her community about cleft and wants to make sure that everyone in her area living with a cleft condition learns about Operation Smile. 

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“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President