African beauty queens make children with cleft smile

We talk to Miss World Kenya 2014 Idah Nguma, who works with Smile Train to improve the lives of children with cleft lip and palate in East Africa.

The stigma around cleft lip and palate in East Africa is insane. Some people truly believe that children affected by this congenital deformity are “things” and not human beings. They are disgraced, isolated and in extreme cases even killed. In fact, people don’t even realise that cleft happens naturally and is not an issue of their own making. (Idah Nguma)


Miss World Kenya 2014 Idah Nguma is Kenyan ambassador for Smile Train, an international NGO that offers free correctional surgery to children suffering from cleft lip and palate. These are oral and facial malformations that develop early in pregnancy. As a result, the lip or the roof of the mouth is physically split.




Nguma travelled to Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda in August encouraging other East African beauty queens to use their fame and influence to raise awareness on the issue, particularly in remote areas.


While visiting Rwamagana Hospital in Rwanda, Nguma and Miss Rwanda Doriane Kundwa met cleft patients wishing to share their stories. One thing became obvious, the stigma around cleft in the region is still very real, although unfounded. Nguma explains:


What touched me most was the story of this one child who had been abandoned at birth. The minute the baby was born with cleft lip and palate, the husband left his wife assuming that she was a witch who had given birth to some creature that was not human.


Even her close neighbours did everything to avoid her. Nevertheless, she stayed strong for the baby. Following the first surgery to treat the boy’s cleft lip, the father returned to his wife and recognised his child. The child continues to receive correctional surgery.




In fact, cleft can easily be repaired through a safe and simple surgery that corrects the abnormal development to restore a normal appearance, which can help build self-esteem and enable the regular functioning of the lip and palate. Thanks to Smile Train patients can be treated for free. Results are immediate and it takes less than two weeks to heal.


“I am hoping that we will get rid of cleft in Africa in a few years time. The only cases we will have will be of new born babies and we will be able to immediately treat them,” dreams Nguma.




By mobilising people, raising awareness and taking part in outreach programmes the beauty queen is showing that anything is possible. Nguma is one of the many inspiring figures coming out of Africa: share these stories through #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, the hashtag that gives the continent a brighter image.

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