Scenes of Hope and Healing: Nampula Medical Mission

Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

During Operation Smile’s August 2019 medical mission in Nampula, Hospital Central De Nampula – the largest hospital in the northern region of Mozambique – partnered with Operation Smile and granted several spaces within the hospital for patients to receive care and recover comfortably. Medical and nonmedical volunteers including students, child life specialists, surgeons, paediatricians, speech language pathologists, nurses and anaesthesiologists each contributed to the success of the mission by working together to change lives.

Patient coordinator Carlos Mahalambe, left, poses for a photo with members of his patient shelter coordination team: Nedah Solgado, Flex Manantsoa and Richard Musarara. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Carlos first learned about Operation Smile in 2013 when he saw a poster promoting an upcoming mission. While he’d seen people living with cleft lip and cleft palate before, he never knew that the conditions could be repaired with surgery. Immediately, he knew that he could help. Carlos has remained driven to help Mozambicans affected by cleft ever since, and his efforts continue to make an immense impact: He successfully recruited 89 potential patients to attend the August 2019 mission.

“I feel happy because it’s like I’m changing the life of the patient, and that makes me proud,” Carlos said. “I also see people being changed and becoming equal with the rest of the community. That makes me very happy.”

Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Six-year-old Nelsa and her father, Amisse, travelled to the medical mission in Nampula after the chief of their village told Amisse that surgery was possible to repair his daughter’s cleft lip. Before the birth of their daughter, Amisse and his wife had never seen anyone with a cleft condition. But after arriving at the Nampula mission site and seeing how many other families had children living with cleft, Amisse was shocked and said, “I realized that I was not alone.”

Anaesthesiologist Dr. Ellinor Wisen of Sweden assesses a patient’s heart rate during their comprehensive health evaluation. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

The information obtained during the screening process provides anaesthesiologists like Ellinor with the knowledge they need to determine whether a patient is healthy enough to receive safe surgery.

Nine-year-old Abdul, left, plays catch with another patient during screening day at Operation Smile’s medical mission. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Abdul travelled to the mission site with his grandmother, Luisa, and his mother, Natalia, who also had an unrepaired cleft lip. Due to certain spiritual beliefs stemming from the lack of knowledge and harmful stigmatisation surrounding cleft conditions, Luisa endured rejection and horrible treatment from members of her community and family after giving birth to Natalia.

“My parents wanted to bury my daughter alive because they believed she was back luck,” she said. “Natalia’s father left; he didn’t want anything to do with me.”

The painful abuse continued after Natalia gave birth to Abdul. But Luisa refused to give up hope. And after travelling five hours to Operation Smile’s medical mission, both Abdul and Natalia received the surgeries that they always deserved. “The team didn’t just look after my children, they looked after me, too. Thank you, Operation Smile,” Luisa said

Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Luisa and her mother wait during screening day with the hope that Luisa will receive surgery to repair her cleft lip. She was one of 110 patients who received a comprehensive health evaluation at the Nampula mission.

After passing her health evaluation, Vania plays in the child life area as she waits to undergo her free, safe surgery. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Three-year-old Rassul smiles wide at South African student volunteer Zoe Prinsloo as he waits to enter the operating room and receive surgery on his cleft lip. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

When Rassul was born, his mother, Eriana, cried and felt guilty that she had given birth to a child with a cleft lip. She didn’t understand why this had happened to her and her child. “I couldn’t think about anything,” Eriana said. “I kept on telling myself that God knows why.”

But Eriana was determined to get her son the care that he needed to have a brighter future. After she learned about the possibility of free surgery, her hope for her son’s future began to grow. Rassul turned 3 years old during the mission and received the greatest gift on his birthday – a new smile.

“I love how the Operation Smile team took care of me and my baby,” Eriana said.

Operation Smile volunteer surgeon Dr. Ankur Pandya of the U.K. performs surgery on a patient surrounded by multiple Mozambican observers. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

More than 25 observers from the Hospital Central De Nampula attended the medical mission to receive first-hand experience and education from Operation Smile’s highly trained and qualified medical professionals.

Cleft surgeon Dr. Frank Mondelo of Cuba observes as Operation Smile medical volunteers perform surgery on a patient. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Observer and cleft surgeon Dr. Antonio Alberto of Mozambique watches as a surgery is performed on a patient during the Nampula medical mission. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Through the training and education of local volunteers, Operation Smile works to not only increase the surgical capacity in the country but help create a community of passionate people who are driven and empowered to make a lasting impact

Surgeon Dr. Ulrike Lamle of the U.K. checks on a patient after they received surgery. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Agosto looks at his new smile after Operation Smile medical volunteers repaired his cleft lip. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Agosto was one of 71 patients who received safe surgical care during Operation Smile’s August 2019 medical mission in Nampula.

Nurse Holly Leung of Canada holds a mirror so a young patient can see their new smile for the first time. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

After receiving life-changing surgeries from Operation Smile, many patients are given the chance to live without fear of bullying or isolation. They are given the opportunity to go to school, build friendships and create happy memories. Safe surgery does more than repair a smile, it can be a new beginning.