Shadrach Ogagaoghene, a entrepreneur by profession belts out a joyous Christmas tune at the Sing and Smile Club, a Choir he is part of alongside other patients undergoing free Speech Therapy in Nigeria, courtesy of the world’s largest cleft charity, Smile Train.
Shadrach had lived to adult years with a wide gap on his upper lip that had extended to the roof of his mouth (palate). He had endured bullying and all manner of name-calling, which greatly affected his ability to socialize with people, beyond being able to eat and speak properly.
“I had always wanted to live that life where I would be free to show my teeth. I had this low self-esteem because of my speech impairment, so I seldom associated with people. Even if I did, it got to a point where I just withdrew myself, because people laughed at me or hardly understood what I was saying. I hardly smiled because I really didn’t like how my dental arrangement was,” he narrated.
Touched to near tears, Shadrach expressed gratitude to Smile Train and the medical professionals at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, saying the transformation in his life represented hope, life and purpose for every child born with cleft.
According to him, “Life has been more meaningful to me because I can now boldly express myself without the fear of being silenced because people won’t hear what I’m saying clearly. I knew about Smile Train in 2017 after I had my surgery but didn’t know they had sponsored the whole process, which costed me nothing. They fixed my smile and have now put braces on my teeth to bring them back to form. They have also supported my speech therapy to help me speak more clearly. I feel I have family out there and I’m never hard on myself anymore. It took a long time to realize that all of these were never my doing. I was born this way, and I use my life to encourage more people to bring patients to hospital for surgery.”
He however called for more sensitization about cleft among the local communities because it is a birth difference that affected 1 in 1300 children born in Nigeria.
“Many people still don’t know what cleft palate and cleft lip is. The Government and well-meaning Nigerians should as a matter of importance invest their resources on the cleft community. Smile Train has got the architectural framework to reach out to children and family with such medical conditions free of charge, so government and individuals should leverage on this,” he noted.
Smile Train has been in Nigeria for more than 10 years, having done over 25,000 cleft surgeries using the scalable sustainable approach to cleft care. As part of strengthening healthcare systems to achieve Universal Health Coverage, Smile Train leverages the ‘teach a man to fish’ model of partnering with local medical professionals, empowering them with funding, training and resources to provide free surgery and comprehensive cleft care within the community. The treatment provides holistic care to the patient, covering nutritional support, cleft surgery, speech therapy, orthodontics and psychosocial support.