Despite being surrounded by a supportive family, Hannah still recalls how strangers would shout abuse whenever she passed. And how people she knew refused to eat meals with her. She says she didn’t feel ‘human’ back then.

18 years in waiting

Hannah’s parents loved her dearly, but had no hope of being able to afford the costs of surgery for their daughter. In many countries around the world, families like Hannah’s don’t have access to safe, affordable healthcare. Health facilities are either too far away or lack the trained staff or equipment to provide specialist care. Even when health services are available, the costs are usually out of reach for most ordinary people. 

So, childhood and teenage years for Hannah were understandably difficult. People would laugh at her and make cruel comments. Some treated her as if her cleft condition was a disease they could catch if they got too close. Hannah spent her days quietly comparing herself to peers and wishing she wasn’t different.  

18 years passed by the time Hannah found out about Operation Smile.

Hannah before her cleft surgery in 2015. Photo: Margherita Mirabella

No longer alone

After carrying the heavy emotional burden of her cleft for so long, it’s easy to imagine Hannah’s joy when she first spoke to Clement, Patient Coordinator for Operation Smile Ghana. Clement told Hannah she could have her cleft lip repaired safely, and for free. He also said that Operation Smile would cover the costs of her transport.

When Hannah arrived to catch the bus that would take her to the surgical programme, it was the first time she had seen other people with cleft conditions. She recalls the relief she felt at knowing she wasn’t alone. There were so many other children and adults there just like her.

New smile brings tears of joy

After surgery, when Hannah saw her reflection in the mirror for the first time, she couldn’t stop smiling. Her delight at finally being able to fit in was hard to contain, “When surgery was done for me, I became so happy. Now I am not being laughed at. I am a happy person.” she says.

It was nighttime when Hannah arrived home from the hospital. Her family and neighbours couldn’t see her transformation in the darkness. But the next morning, there was huge excitement when everyone saw Hannah for the first time. Friends, family and relatives gathered round, some cried with happiness, and all were delighted with Hannah’s new smile.

Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli

New hopes for the future

Hannah is now 26. She met her husband after surgery, and they have a beautiful daughter, Felicia. Surgery has given Hannah the confidence to make plans for their future. She missed out on school because of the bullying, but she now hopes to learn a trade and earn more money for her family. She also dreams that her daughter Felicia will one day become a doctor.

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