Did you know that July is the National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month? Cleft lip and cleft palate are among the most common birth defects, and they come about when an unborn baby’s facial structures don’t close completely. The classic sign is a split in the upper lip for cleft lip, and on the roof of the mouth for cleft palate. Babies can be born with either of these, or both.
The good news is that these conditions are often correctable or at least improvable through surgery. The not so good news is that the cost of surgery can be quite high and unaffordable for most families dealing with a child or relative with cleft lip or cleft palate.
Take the case of Terry Wambui for example. Her attempts at correcting her situation will cost her upwards of Ksh600,000/- because cranial facial deformities sometimes come with the need for intensive dental work in addition to corrective surgery.
Terry is staring at a bleak future, and she feels that she will be toothless by 30 years. That is no light matter because cleft lip and cleft palate often come with a crippling drop in self-esteem. Fighting this condition for her means that she would be able to smile again, and she urges Government to take these defects with enough seriousness to take those affected as a special group. This way, the high cost of surgery can be shouldered or subsidized by Government.
To see just how society can be ignorant and break people’s spirits, look at the case of Catherine Kimani – a 36-year-old full time mother of three. Someone told Catherine’s mother that her son could not marry her because she would bring a curse into the family due to her cleft lip condition. That is very disheartening, and this is what we are saying about self-esteem.
Catherine underwent 36 surgeries before she was even four years old. To date she is afraid to smile in public or even eat in the company of people because due to her cranial facial deformities, food or drink might come out through her nostrils.
Another case is that of Mercy Kireji – an advocate of the High Court of Kenya who also works with the Capital Markets Authority in the enforcement department. Mercy has quite a noticeable speech impairment due to her cleft lip and palate and she often finds that she has to keep repeating herself when she’s conversing with people. She therefore has hinderances networking as a lawyer, but she still finds her way around this.
As we can see, her condition has not tied her down and to young girls who may be facing her plight, she says it is okay to be different. They are beautiful and they can do anything. To parents who tend to hide their children due to stigma, she asks them to believe in their children and let them shine.
I was glad to meet these ladies, along with the founder of Cleft Clique Kenya – Lucy Muoki. Lucy is a journalist and has also been through the struggles of cleft lip. Her thinking behind starting the association was to create awareness about the community living with the deformity, and to champion for their recognition so that it becomes easier for them to access corrective and reconstructive surgeries.
Lucy aims to push for policy change to have cleft care taken as a disability and not a cosmetic issue. After all it is a condition that affects functions like mental health, speech, and feeding sometimes to an extent that an affected baby cannot breast feed.
These are just a few ladies who lent their voice to this course and there are many more out there. This is National Lipstick Week and the meetup with these ladies was organized by Jumia and MAC Cosmetics to bring the ladies together to tell their story, and for MAC to do their makeup and make them feel beautiful. Every lady deserves to feel at her best and they were all grateful for the two companies.