A smile says it all

Nurse Anneke Knegtmans (New Zealand) weighs Abdul during registration for surgery in the Admissions tent.
Fatmata holds Abdul after successful cleft surgery.
Abdul after his cleft surgery.

Fatmata, a fourth-grade student, faced some monumental problems that no thirteen-year-old should have to face. She left school to give birth to a beautiful baby boy she named Abdul. The baby was born with a cleft lip and palate. In her native culture, people believed such a deformity to be a sign that Abdul was a demon child. So Fatmata’s mother threw them both out of the house.

Fatmata had no way to earn a living and care for her child, so she moved in with Mbalu, her wise and loving grandmother. Mbalu offered to help raise the child so Fatmata could continue her education.

Because the clefts made it difficult for Abdul to get all the nourishment he needed, he did not thrive. Worried, Fatmata brought her two-month-old son to a Mercy Ships screening, hoping that the volunteer surgeons could repair his clefts. The ship’s medical team accepted little Abdul for surgery, but he first needed to gain weight to sustain the surgery. The team placed him on the Infant Feeding Program.

Under the awning of the Infant Feeding Station, Nurse Jessica King, clinical dietician, explained the techniques to properly feed Abdul. Fatmata followed all the instructions and as the Mercy Ships team weighed and measured him each week, they saw great improvement.  Within weeks, Abdul weighed enough for surgery, but Fatmata was not old enough to join him onboard ship as his caretaker.  Mbalu happily took on that role for her great-grandson while Abdul’s young mother continued to nurse and care for her son.

The volunteer surgeons repaired Abdul’s clefts, and the difference was obvious on the faces of the baby, his mother and his great-grandmother. Smiles lit up all of their faces!

Now little Abdul has a life free of physical disfigurement and verbal abuse. „Thank you, thank you, we are very happy,“ Fatmata and Mbalu repeated.

Fatmata hopes to save enough money to go back to school in the fall. „I want to train to be a bank accountant someday,“ she confided. In the meantime, she is learning how to be a good mother to Abdul.