Lani Pascua looks exhausted as she holds her 4-year-old daughter, Hachelyn, close to her. They have travelled by tricycle, bus and lorry to make it to Cauayan City for the start of Operation Smile’s medical mission in the Philippines.
Lani lives in extremely poor circumstances with no resources for surgery – or even doctor’s visits. Her husband works on the rice fields during the harvesting season. In a good month, he will make about 800 pesos, or $20, which is barely enough to care for Hachelyn and his three other children.
When Lani heard that Operation Smile volunteer medical teams were coming, she spent days washing clothes for other people in her village, just to earn the $3 to make the trip to the medical mission site. Her eyes filled with tears when she talks about the suffering she and her family have experienced, especially Hachelyn.
“When I first saw my baby after she was born, I just cried and cried. I was shocked when I first saw her,” she said. “When people saw her, they called her names. They said, ‘What have you done to have a baby that looks like this?’ Hearing that, I thought it was because of something I had done.”
People told Lani to “throw away” her baby, or “let her die.”
Hachelyn was born with a cleft lip and a cleft palate – making eating and drinking very difficult.
“When I tried to feed her, the milk came out of her nose. I was so afraid that she would die,” Lani said.
Lani said she has never seen another child with a cleft lip before. She has felt isolated and alone in her struggles. She has devoted her life to raising this beautiful and strong daughter – but the constant teasing and taunting has tormented her as well.
“The other children bully her and call her ‘gusing’ (derogatory term for cleft). When she cries and I tell her to come inside and I just cuddle her,” Lani said. “I get all my strength from this child. All I want is for her lip to be fixed.”
The biggest bullies in this young girl’s life are the family’s neighbors. They have called Hachelyn names since the day she was born. But that torment will soon end.
Lani’s mother saw banners advertising the Operation Smile medical mission around their town and convinced her to do whatever it took to bring Hachelyn to Operation Smile.
With renewed hope, Lani decided to do all she could to get her daughter to Operation Smile. But she kept her plans a secret from her neighbors.
“I wanted to keep it a secret from the neighbors who have bullied my child all these years. She will have the surgery – and I will be able to bring her home and show them what has happened,” she told us. “They will never bully my daughter again.”
One year after surgery, Hachelyn now has a beautiful smile.
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