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Great-Grandma Sets Out On 2-Day Journey To Find Healing After 65 Yrs Of Isolation And Pain.

Maria from Kenya

When you look at Maria’s happy, smiling face today, you’d never guess she spent the first 65 years of her life being ridiculed and shunned for her appearance.

The great-grandmother of 16 lives in a rural village in Kenya. When she was born in 1953, most of her community had never even seen a cleft, and they had no idea how to heal them. As a child, she was sick all the time and was bullied relentlessly. She grew quiet and withdrawn, preferring to stay inside and away from prying eyes.

Maria from Kenya before cleft surgery
Smile Train

That’s why Maria was overjoyed when she met a man who was able to see her true self. They fell in love and had three children together.

Living among her large family, Maria avoided the stares and cruelty of outsiders by staying away from community gatherings and events. It was easier on her mental health to stay out of sight, but the seclusion weighed on her.

Over the years, Maria came to terms with her untreated cleft, but a chance meeting with a health worker affiliated with Smile Train changed everything. She couldn’t believe her ears when she heard she could receive the life-changing cleft surgery that had been out of reach her entire life – at no cost to her family!

Maria and son David
Smile Train

Maria’s family was hesitant at first. They were unsure why Maria would go through surgery so late in life, and they were skeptical that the operation would actually be free. Her adult son David insisted that she was too old for the surgery, but nothing could sway Maria.

A few days before her scheduled surgery, Maria set out by herself on foot. It took her two days of walking to make the journey to Smile Train-partner IcFEM Dreamland Hospital, where a medical team was waiting to change her life for the better. She passed all of their health assessments and had her free Smile Train-supported surgery. When she woke up, she barely recognized her own face in the mirror!

“Thank you, Smile Train, for finally letting me smile at my beautiful family,”she said.

Maria and great grandchildren
Smile Train

These days, Maria can’t stop smiling. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have learned so much from the way she has persevered and overcome the personal challenges in her life. Her determination and optimism are an inspiration to us all!

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