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OPERATION SMILE: Care for Brighter Futures: Iris’ Story

As soon as Iris gets off the bus and, together with her mother, moves through the crowds of people at a bus station in Managua, Nicaragua, she hides. Walking behind her mother, she holds one hand on her mother’s shoulder and the other covers her mouth. Her eyes are locked on her mother’s back, as if she doesn’t want to meet the eyes of any of the strangers staring at her. Iris is 11 years old and was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. In a certain way, she’s lucky. Her mother loves her no matter what. She thinks she is beautiful – the best thing that happened to her. So many other children born with cleft conditions experience the opposite; their mothers and fathers feel shame and fear instead of happiness and love when they see their children for the first time. Iris has felt love from the very beginning. But what Iris shares with nearly every child affected by cleft is the feeling of being different, not fitting in and not feeling equal to her peers. Though Iris goes to school with her friends, she always hides her face whenever she is among strangers. She’s used to living life in the shadows of her friends and family. Iris and her mother, Sandra, have taken the bus for five hours from their hometown of Matagalpa to the capital city of Managua, where an Operation Smile cleft care center is located. Sandra has tried before to have her daughter treated at a regional hospital. The first time, Iris got sick. The next time, they just couldn’t afford the trip. “My husband works in the fields as a farmer for anyone who can offer him some work. I am a housewife,” Sandra explains. “We are a poor.” But this time they were fortunate. A woman who happened to see Iris decided to help the family by giving them information about Operation Smile and money for the bus trip. Iris and her mother spend nearly the whole day at the center and consult with all the necessary specialists. Tomorrow is her big day – Iris will finally receive the surgery that she’s always deserved. “I have been waiting for this since she was a little baby,” Sandra says. Finally, the moment has arrived for Sandra to see her daughter for the first time after the 1-hour surgery. As Iris is brought to the recovery room, Sandra can’t hold her tears back and embraces her daughter with so much love. “Thanks to God everything went well, my darling. You can relax and just recover now. I am crying because I want to thank God and everyone who has been working with you.” After this surgery, Iris will go back to her village and feel and look like the rest of the children there. She will be able to feel confident and overcome her shyness and won’t feel the need to cover her face anymore.

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Operation Smile

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