Help for children with cleft lip and palate in Rwanda

For many years, the two oral and maxillofacial surgeons Oliver Blume and Gunther Au-Balbach have been helping children with cleft deformities in East Africa.

In April 2024, they again went to RwandaThey send pictures and small reports of their work there every day. For us in Freiburg it’s almost as if we were there alongside them. We would like to share these special impressions with you.

The doctors in front of the Rwamagana Hospital, where our Rwandan partner surgeon Dr. Laurent Siborurema works. Far left: Oliver Blume, in the middle Dr. Laurent, second from right: Dr. Emmanuel Munyarugero, right: Gunther Au-Balbach.

At the airport in Kigali, Oli and Gunther are met by the Rwandan surgeon Dr. Laurent Siborurema and accompanied to the first stop of the ten-day mission in Rwamagana. Dr. Laurent was trained by us in cleft surgery. He now operates independently and is a permanent contact point for patients in Rwanda and in our project in Tanzania.

In missions like these, many patients have to be well cared for in a short period of time. A well-coordinated team is therefore particularly important. There are often unpredictable situations that require prudence, experience and sometimes improvisational talent. In this situation, Dr. Emmanel Munyarugero, an anesthetist from Uganda, plays an important role. Like Dr. Laurent, he too has been a member of our German-African team from the beginning. After years of successful collaboration, Oli and Gunther know that they can fully rely on his abilities.

Many children await help

Word quickly spreads about the presence of the doctors from Germany. Many more patients are coming than expected. These include some particularly difficult cases, who need correspondingly complex operations. Each of these aid missions always serves to provide further training for Dr. Laurent and thus constantly improves the range of help that is permanently available to patients on site.

On the first day the team manages ten operations! At the end of the hard day of surgery, everyone is exhausted – and equally filled with the happiness and gratitude they experience. It is this very special moment that motivates and drives our doctors again and again: when a mother embraces her newly operated child, the cleft now closed.

And then there is another surprise: a visit from Tanzania! Sara received surgery from Oli and Gunther ten years ago, when she was only a baby. Now she proudly greets “her” two doctors – in German! Her father says that his daughter has decided to learn German. Seeing how well Sara has developed since her operation is very rewarding for the surgeons.

One of many touching moments: Sara from Tanzania received surgery for her cleft from Oli and Gunther ten years ago, when she was only a baby. She has come to see them both again. Today she is learning German.

Yesterday the team arrived in Cyangugu, the second stop in their relief mission. They will be providing surgery for more patients here, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, until Friday. For Oli and Gunther it’s then time to say goodbye on Saturday. But thanks to Dr. Laurent, our help continues. We ask for your support for this important work. With your donation you give children with clefts a real chance to develop healthily and live a normal life. Sara’s story is an example of this.

We thank you very much, on behalf of Oliver Blume and Gunther Au-Balbach and the many families with their children who are still awaiting their much-needed surgery.