Drawing Smiles

Anas with an Operation Smile medical volunteer. Photo courtesy of Anas.

Anas grew up believing that the scar on his lip was the result of a fall he’d had as a child – after 14 years, he learned the truth.

When their son was born with a unilateral cleft lip, Anas’ parents were scared and shocked. Neither had ever seen anyone with a cleft before.

Hoping to repair their son’s cleft condition, Anas’ parents took him to a clinic (unaffiliated with Operation Smile) where he received his first operation at 2 months old.

Sadly, the results of the surgery didn’t heal properly, and Anas was left with bad scars and unevenness in his lips.

Fearing that Anas would think his cleft condition was a consequence of God punishing him, Anas’ parents told him that his scars were the result of him falling from the stairs as a child.

So as he grew up, Anas never knew that there were more people just like him, living every day with an untreated cleft condition.

Anas’ parents loved their son. And in their minds, protecting Anas meant sheltering him from the truth.

But even in their efforts to help Anas live the best life possible, his parents couldn’t stop him from enduring years of harmful bullying.

When children at school noticed his scars, Anas would say that he’d cut himself shaving in an attempt to lessen the pain he felt. And when the hurtful comments and ridicule continued, Anas’ response to the cruel treatment would be to make a joke, hoping that laughing with his peers would make the bullying stop.

No matter how hurtful the abuse became, Anas persevered and refused to let it faze him or prevent him from living the life that he wanted.

Anas later admitted that the bullying he endured helped build his character and mould him into the person he is today – someone with the strength and desire to help others.

Anas with long-time Operation Smile Morocco volunteer paediatrician Dr. Najib Jilali in 2013. Photo courtesy of Anas.

It wasn’t until Anas was 14 years old that he learned that his father had been secretly researching medical options.

During his pursuit of finding a solution for his son, Anas’ father discovered Operation Smile Morocco and learned about the safe, life-changing surgeries it provides patients living with cleft conditions.

After hearing about the organisation’s upcoming medical mission, Anas’ father decided that it was finally time to tell his son the truth.

It was in that moment that Anas first learned about his cleft condition.

While travelling to the medical mission with his father, Anas didn’t know what to expect. He understood that the damage from his previous surgery could be repaired at the mission. But what Anas didn’t anticipate was the scene he would witness once he got there.

Hundreds of people just like him had travelled from across the country, carrying with them the hope of receiving surgery from Operation Smile Morocco.

At the mission, Anas felt an immediate connection with many of the patients. But it saddened him to see them hiding their faces and looking down in embarrassment because of their cleft lips.

Determined to make an impact, Anas formed a community by bringing together both Operation Smile Morocco patients and volunteers.

After passing his comprehensive health evaluation and receiving surgery to repair his cleft lip, Anas became inspired to achieve even more for the organisation.

Anas today. Photo: Ambra Marengo.
Anas today. Photo: Ambra Marengo.

Since his final surgery in 2013, Anas has earned a degree in psychology and volunteered with many organisations, working especially with orphans and children with autism.

Today, he interns at a hospital in addition to working toward becoming a credentialed child life specialist for Operation Smile Morocco.

Putting his psychology studies into practice, Anas touches the lives of patients and their families by helping calm worried parents after their child enters the operating room.

He tells them, “Look at me. I was your son!”

Once they see that Anas’ surgery was successful, anxious parents often immediately relax and try to learn more about his own journey to healing.

Anas says that being on both sides of the mission experience makes him feel like the bridge between the volunteers and patients.

After receiving surgery from Operation Smile Morocco, Anas gained so much more than a new smile.

“Here in Morocco, Operation Smile has a real community who gives a real hope to others. It gives the gift of a new beginning. We all share our humanity, languages, experiences with one another and become like a family.

“For patients, it’s a new beginning. We are giving them confidence and new hope. It is a priceless gift. This is really life changing; it has been for me, and it is for all of Operation Smile’s patients. It’s amazing to have such an organisation in my country. I am happy that, for my part, with the power of words, I can also draw smiles.”

Anas poses for a photo with a young patient during an Operation Smile Morocco mission. Photo courtesy of Anas.