A Second Chance at a New Smile

mother holding child with a cleft lip
Seven-month-old Mohamed with his mum, Benjebi. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the Covid-19 pandemic endures. We’re helping frontline health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

Holding her 3-week-old child in her arms, Benjebi tried to process the news she’d just received: Her son, Mohamed, was too young to receive cleft surgery.

After travelling more than 370 miles to attend an Operation Smile Morocco surgical programme in Oujda, Benjebi felt devastated to learn that Mohamed would return home without a new smile.

As thoughts of what Mohamed’s future would be like began racing through her head, Benjebi received news that made her feel hopeful once again.

The volunteer medical team told her that an upcoming Operation Smile Morocco mission was scheduled to take place in Dakhla six months later.

Benjebi clung to her renewed hope on their long journey back home. In six months, Mohamed would be old enough for surgery.

Remembering back to the day she gave birth, Benjebi never imagined she would have a child with a cleft lip. Unaware that this condition affected so many people, Benjebi felt isolated seeing her baby for the first time.

baby with a cleft lip looking at camera
Mohamed, before surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

After Mohamed’s birth, Benjebi became anxious as she watched her husband, Hamid, intensely stare at their new baby boy. She worried he wouldn’t accept their son because of his cleft condition.

But that was not the case.

Hamid loved his son, but he was confused by his son’s condition. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. Calming his wife’s fears, Hamid reassured Benjebi that he loved Mohamed and would always love him despite his cleft lip.

Sadly, their families did not show the same support.

Lacking access to education on the potential causes of cleft conditions, which can be environmental, hereditary or a combination of both factors, Benjebi and Hamid’s families blamed Benjebi.

They believed that Mohamed’s cleft condition was caused by Benjebi looking at a bad spirit during her pregnancy.

Despite the hurtful comments from family members, Hamid and Benjebi knew that nothing anyone said could diminish the love they both had for Mohamed.

This unconditional devotion motivated Benjebi and Hamid to overcome any obstacle that threatened to stand in the way of Mohamed receiving the smile he deserved.

In the months that followed their first attempt at getting Mohamed surgery in Oujda, Benjebi worked tirelessly to ensure that he would be healthy enough for surgery when the mission in Dakhla arrived.

As she boarded the bus that Operation Smile Morocco provided to transport families on the 32-hour journey to Dakhla, Benjebi hoped that her commitment to Mohamed’s health had paid off.

Surrounded by hundreds of families who’d also travelled to the surgical mission with hopes of their child receiving a new smile, Benjebi felt connected to the other mothers of children born with cleft conditions.

It felt as though for the first time, she wasn’t alone.

dentist smiling at baby with cleft lip
During Operation Smile Morocco's 2015 surgical mission in Dakhla, volunteer dentist Dr. Lo Hanane of Morocco examines Mohamed during the screening process. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Each patient underwent a comprehensive medical evaluation to ensure that they were healthy enough to receive surgery.

After Mohamed was examined by our volunteer paediatricians, dentists, anaesthesiologists and other medical professionals, Benjebi cried tears of joy when the team told her the words she’d been waiting to hear since first learning about Operation Smile Morocco: Mohamed was healthy enough to receive surgery.

smiling boy with repaired cleft lip
Mohamed, one year after surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

The following day, upon laying eyes on her son for the first time after surgery, Benjebi said it was as if Mohamed had been reborn. She took photos of her son and sent them to Hamid, who could not believe his son’s transformation and was eager to see Mohamed in person.

“I would like to thank Operation Smile for everything,” Benjebi said. “I want to encourage all doctors to volunteer and help the mothers who need help.”

When they returned home, many people from their community came to see Mohamed and share in the family’s celebration.

With Mohamed potentially being too young to remember his life before surgery, Hamid and Benjebi hope he will grow up happy and have the confidence to chase after his dreams without fear of the harmful treatment they once endured.

smiling boy with repaired cleft lip
Mohamed, 5 years old. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.

We caught up with Mohamed and his family again three years later. He is now in school and enjoys singing and playing ball.

Today, Mohamed is living a life that’s no longer defined by his cleft condition.

Help us keep our promise to patients like Mohamed amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Your support today means we can continue to help them through these uncertain times and provide them with the surgery they deserve when it’s safe to resume our work around the world.

smiling boy holding a photo of himself before cleft surgery
Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.