In many countries, cleft children and their families have no access to treatment and are instead are shunned by their neighbors and peers for their entire lives. Because of their cleft, the children are stigmatized as disabled, ridiculed and marginalized. Very few are able to attend school. In addition, many of the children have serious health problems as a result of their cleft.
As an aid organization for cleft children in need we work to ensure that cleft children from all countries and backgrounds to have access to safe, high-quality, and comprehensive treatment, giving them a chance to live a better life in good health.
Our concept to achieve this goal is to invest in the long-term development of our projects – as a foundation for lasting, functioning local treatment structures and thus sustainable aid and reliable, accessible long-term care for the cleft patients in our project countries. Providing information to parents on the causes of and treatment options for clefts also are crucial parts of our work.
The most important part of the treatment is the surgery. Performed by a skilled, qualified surgeon like our partners are, it makes children with a cleft lip look “normal”. If there is also a cleft palate, at least one further operation is required to close it. An untreated cleft palate has serious consequences: the children cannot eat and drink properly and speak with difficulty.
Sustainable development cooperation usually follows the motto “Helping people help themselves”. But what does that mean? How do you get a project to a point where it works stably and independently?
As an international aid organization, we understand “helping people to help themselves” as a long-term investment in the development of our aid projects. We continuously accompany our projects beyond the initial buildup phase. Our activities are tailored to country-specific conditions and individual needs.
Medical aid on site is organized by our partners on their own responsibility. In our project countries, local doctors, therapists and project coordinators ensure the care and medical treatment of patients. In times of Corona, this philosophy proved to be particularly effective. Organizations whose aid relies on foreign doctors often had to suspend their activities due to travel restrictions. Thanks to our local teams, we can continue providing treatments despite the pandemic.
The structures in our project countries vary. In the larger cities, we have permanent project sites in partner clinics. To care for the many children with cleft lip and palate who live in remote rural areas and have no access to qualified treatment, regular surgical missions are carried out in surrounding provincial hospitals. Each project has a lead surgeon with a team of anesthesiologists and nurses at his side.
Wherever the medical infrastructure allows, the children receive comprehensive care. The core teams are then expanded to include speech therapists, orthodontists, dentists and psychologists.
Our project leaders work on a purely voluntary basis to help our cleft children. Their work on site is hard and sometimes also risky. And yet they are always motivated anew to continue: Motivated to help save children’s lives. Oliver Blume’s film exemplifies this. The oral and maxillofacial surgeon from Munich, a father of four himself, has been working for many years for Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe to help cleft children in East Africa.
Often parents know nothing about the treatment options and causes of a cleft lip and palate. Many believe that the cleft is a punishment for a sin. So education is an important part of our work. Out of shame and ignorance, children with cleft lip and palate are often hidden away. Education and awareness work is necessary to find affected children and to teach parents about the causes of cleft and the free treatment. We use posters, advertisements or social media channels. Project workers go from house to house, visit schools and markets to draw attention to our offer of treatment.