Cleft Lip Project Celebrates 10 Years in South Sudan

10th December 2021

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Samaritan’s Purse has mended more than 700 cleft lips for patients from across the country.

People in the village told the young mother to toss her newborn daughter into the nearby river. They said both the child and family were cursed and would always be despised.

Nyani is the 1,000th patient to be treated since our cleft lip programme began in 2011.

Nyani Atar, femle 6yrs, 1000th patient since 2011 for overall cleft programme

But Dakeech believed her daughter, Nyani, to be a precious gift from God. She refused to end Nyani’s life because she was born with a cleft lip.

The family has endured ridicule for the past six years. Children endlessly teased Nyani and wouldn’t even allow her to draw a drink of water from the same hand pump.

Yet, Dakeech trusts that everything is going to change now that her daughter’s lip has been fixed by a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer surgical team who came to Juba Teaching Hospital in South Sudan.

“All the bad things people said about me and the child will be washed away,” Dakeech said. “I am so, so happy.”

Nyani is the 1,000th patient to receive surgery from a Samaritan’s Purse cleft lip and palate surgical team. Our volunteer teams of surgeons, nurses, and other medical professionals have repaired lips for patients in South Sudan and other countries such as Liberia, Bolivia, Myanmar, and Guatemala.

Nyani Atar, femle 6yrs, 1000th patient since 2011 for overall cleft programme

In South Sudan alone—where the project first began—our teams have repaired the lips of more than 700 babies, children, youth, and adults. About 95 percent of these patients were only able to come to the capital city of Juba for surgery because our mission aviation team provided free transportation aboard our fleet of aircraft.

We recently celebrated 10 years of providing cleft lip surgeries in the East African nation. Our 10-year anniversary trip in late October resulted in 120 operations for patients without other options for surgery. During the weeklong campaign, our mission aviation team conducted many flights that brought in patients from a dozen different remote areas across the country.

Nyani was among the first to receive a new smile during the recent campaign, and after the surgery, her mother couldn’t stop smiling. “You bring us here for free surgery, you give us a bed, you give us food, and you transport us back home—all these things you did because of this child, because of the love you have.”

Against All Odds

Starting a successful cleft lip programme in a country plagued by coups, civil war, and one humanitarian crisis after another seemed improbable at times. Especially factoring in the logistics and coordination needed to transport patients by plane.

Nurse Carol Pollock helps Nyani see her new smile for the first time.

Nyani Atar, femle 6yrs, 1000th patient since 2011 for overall cleft programme

Still, the vision didn’t waver, and Samaritan’s Purse provided about 40 surgeries the first year.

“What began as a very small, fledgling programme, God has brought to fruition time and time again. I’m astounded that year after year, it still happens, against the odds,” said Karen Daniels, manager of the cleft surgical teams. “My hope is that the patients have an encounter with Jesus and remember the love they felt here.”

Beth Thompson, Samaritan’s Purse medical programme specialist, has also been with the programme since the beginning and seen God’s power displayed. “He allows us to be vessels of His mercy. God sends you to do something and He equips you to do it. Ultimately, the results are up to Him.”

The project would never have had a chance to get off the ground if not for the many volunteer medical professionals who graciously sacrificed in order to serve in Jesus’ Name. Dr. Tom Boeve, now assistant director of World Medical Mission, has served on every Samaritan’s Purse cleft lip campaign in South Sudan. Dr. Boeve began as a volunteer surgeon with the cleft lip team when he was a medical missionary in Kenya.

“My hope is that the patients have an encounter with Jesus.”

“I can’t imagine stopping until I have no more ability to do this,” he said. “This is what I live for. Of all the places I’ve worked since I started doing missions, South Sudan has the greatest need. You could stay for weeks and weeks and just keep going and working.”

South Sudan and the unique work of the cleft lip teams is something Dr. Boeve said he’ll never forget.

“I remember my first trip here, and the day I got on the plane to go home, tears were in my eyes thinking about how many cleft lips were repaired and how many people heard about Jesus. To be part of that—it’s so priceless.”

Ongoing Gospel Ministry

Robert Nathana is a local pastor and church planter who has partnered with our teams since the first trip and served as a chaplain to help meet the spiritual needs of our patients. Over the years, Pastor Robert has brought together nearly a dozen chaplains who are on site for every single cleft lip campaign.

Chaplains (L-R): Robert, John, Hassen, Kamilo, Justin, Stephen, John D, Rufas

“We preach and the patients are getting saved. They go back from here transformed,” he said.

Pastor Robert and his team also facilitate renaming ceremonies for patients who are weary of being referred to as “Machiek.” This name means deformed in the local language, and it’s common for babies born with clefts or other types of physical deformities to be called by this name.

Pastor Robert longs for every patient who has been rejected by society to know without a doubt that they are accepted and cherished by God. “If we have Jesus in our life, we have freedom. You are rich.”

A Lasting Legacy

Every lip repaired over the last 10 years represents an opportunity for change and a second chance.

During the recent campaign, Jakeline and her daughter, Monday, stopped by to visit and share an update with the Samaritan’s Purse team. Monday is from Juba and had surgery about two years ago.

Santina looks in the mirror at her new, mended lip.

Santina looks in the mirror at her new, mended lip.

“Before the surgery, the children teased her and would fight with her. But it’s not there now,” Jakeline said. “The surgery has improved everything a lot. Monday laughs, she can talk, and she’s happy.”

Santina came to Juba hoping that after surgery teasing would become a thing of the past for her, too. “Even though I am 18, I am aiming to go back to school. All the teachers will be able to understand me. No one will tease me.”

Santina dropped out of school at age 5 because the bullying was too much. “I’d been praying for the surgery for many years. We prayed and prayed and prayed,” said her mother, Mamy.

Mamy was excited to return home with her daughter and for their family and neighbours to see evidence of God’s provision.

“A new life will have definitely started.”

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