Smile Week has started in the Free State, and 20 children will get facial reconstructive surgery thanks to a very generous corporate donation.
Free State, South Africa (09 March 2021) – A young teenage girl from the Free State, born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, is set to receive life-changing surgery this week.
Fourteen-year-old Dineo’s first surgery was in 2012 at the age of 5. This latest surgery will be her 4th surgery.
Letitia Jordaan, Smile Foundation’s Hospital Coordinator in the Free State, says Dineo’s transformation over the years has been nothing short of inspirational.
“When I met Dineo all those years ago, I could not believe my eyes and was in utter disbelief of this beautiful young girl’s transformation. And while the physical transformation of her surgeries has been remarkable, the impact on her confidence and self-esteem has been even more profound. Dineo has flourished with each surgery and I can’t wait to see the latest outcome. I am in awe of her courage and perseverance.”
Dineo is among 20 children from different parts of the Free State who will receive corrective facial reconstructive surgery as part of the Universitas Academic Hospital Smile Week, which is taking place between 8 and 12 March.
This marks the first Smile Week in the region in 2021. Sponsored by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), Smile Week is aimed at providing children with facial abnormalities and severe burns access to life-altering reconstructive surgery.
ACSA, who has been a long-time partner of Smile Foundation, has committed to supporting four Smile Weeks this year. This highlights their unwavering commitment to making a lasting impact in previously disadvantaged communities by providing surgeries to those who need it most. Their passion and dedication to making a difference in children’s lives, especially during these difficult times, is awe-inspiring.
“No child should have to live with an unrepaired cleft lip or palate. It has been truly incredible to witness Dineo’s journey over the years. Her story is providing much-needed hope, dignity and self-esteem for children and teens with similar conditions. We are overwhelmed by the unbelievable support and backing from our key donor ACSA. The collaboration between the committed surgical team and ACSA brings faith and courage to children’s lives and their future.” – Hedley Lewis, CEO of Smile Foundation
“As Airports Company South Africa, we are honoured that our support for the Smile Foundation not only helps towards improving the physical appearance but also contributes towards the Psychological well-being of the children who ordinarily would be excluded from such programmes due to financial challenges.” Says Refentse Shinners, Airports Company South Africa’s Group Executive: Corporate Affairs
Dineo’s grandmother Anna, who is her primary caregiver after her mother passed away when she was only 3-years-old, says despite the adversity her granddaughter has had to endure, she has turned into a kind and strong young lady. Anna adds that while the journey has been emotionally challenging for Dineo and the family, things have improved over the years.
She says she is very excited about the outcome of the latest surgery, adding that while her granddaughter loves school, she still has difficulty with her speech and has to attend regular speech therapy.
Greater emphasis needed on parental support
Lewis says with a growing number of parents and caregivers of children born with cleft lips and palates suffering trauma and emotional distress, support groups like Cleft Friends have proven instrumental. Cleft Friends, an initiative of Smile Foundation, is the only organisation in South Africa offering support to parents from mothers who speak only from experience.
He says in the case of the Free State, Cleft Friends support mom Marli Havinga, whose daughter was born with a cleft lip and palate, has been a beacon of hope for parents and caregivers during dark times, helping to equip them with the emotional and mental tools necessary to help them on this difficult journey.
“Marli has been a bright light to so many parents and caregivers. She takes a personal interest in each and every child and has especially been a pillar of strength since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, which has further compounded their stress anxiety, and uncertainty.”
Lewis says Smile Foundation has ambitious plans for 2021, aiming to transform the lives of as many children as possible through reconstructive surgery.
He adds a key goal is addressing the surgery backlogs created by the Covid-19 pandemic, with several Smile Weeks scheduled across major regions in the country in the first half of this year alone.
“There are thousands of children across the country who need our help. But, without the generosity of our corporate donors as well as members of the public, these surgeries would not be possible. We urge all those who are able, to assist us in helping to transform the lives of these children, as well as the lives of their families.”