Dental Technician Kaosarat Bankole recently gave a heart-wrenching story on her ordeals of living with an untreated cleft of the palate, and how things eventually turned around for the better after her encounter with Smile Train.
“Cleft gave me a different meaning to my life. I couldn’t talk or express myself around people apart from people close to me like my sister, and a few family members. It made me lonely, stigmatised, emotionally drained, mentally unstable, and I felt worthless at times,”she narrated.
According to the 24-year-old graduate of Pogil College of Health Technology (POCHTECH) who currently works at the Lagos Island General Hospital, before her encounter with Smile Train, she always kept to herself for fear of being mocked because she sounded off. With a gap on the roof of her mouth, she found it difficult to articulate words and so faced a lot of abuse from friends and classmates in school.
Kaosarat’s experience represents the fate of many children born with Cleft Lip and/or palate conditions. In Nigeria, 1 in 700 children are born with cleft, facing difficulty in breathing, eating, speaking and hearing.
Due to the lack of awareness or proper education, cleft is still prevalent in Nigeria with patients being hidden in the village and being discriminated against. They rarely find a support system while going through life challenges. The consequence of this is a mental breakdown and in extreme cases, feeling suicidal.
For Kaosarat, she drew her initial strength from her elder sister, Mrs. Ibrahim Bankole, and a close family friend, Mrs. Obadere Fadeyi, who always stood by her wherever necessary.
According to her, “With these two people by my side, I always felt like a winner. They fought everyone that insulted me, even in my absence. I am indebted to them for all they have done for me.”
On her encounter with Smile Train, she was first informed about the organisation through a close family associate simply identified as Mrs. Balogun, who had also heard from her uncles who once worked at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
Smile Train which is the largest cleft charity in the world works through a partnership model by empowering local medical professionals at LUTH and many other hospitals globally with funding, training and resources to treat cleft at no cost to the patient.
Since receiving her cleft palate surgery to cover the gap in the palate, Kaosarat has been receiving speech therapy to enable her articulate syllables and letters more clearly. She is now a member of Smile Train’s Sing and Smile Club, a recreational platform setup by Smile Train to aid help beneficiaries to socialize and regain their confidence through singing and acting.
She said, “I am happy to also be identified with an organisation which I have immensely benefited from. From my surgery and now speech therapy, I have not paid a single naira to receive this treatment.”
Adding: “Since my Surgery in 2019, there have been a lot of changes within me and the way people see me. My speech is better, my confidence has immensely improved, including my self-worth. Smile Train is a lifesaver and destiny changer for children with cleft. The speech therapy sessions have helped me in a very positive way.”
Kaosarat concluded by harping on the need for more awareness on the activities of Smile Train in Nigeria, to give other people alike the opportunity to get help in Nigeria.
“I hope my story will inspire more people to get free treatment for cleft. Children deserve a chance at a good life. I feel more confident at work and in my life,” she said.
Beyond providing safe, quality and timely cleft surgery, Smile Train employs a holistic patieny centred approach,providing comprehensive cleft care including nutrition, speech therapy, orthodontics ENT surgery as well as psychosocial support. The organisation, which was founded in 1999 leverages a ‘teach a man to fish’ model by investing in training of local medical professionals in diverse fields, empowering them to provide the highest standards of care closer to the patient’s doorsteps.