Soorya had a hard start in life. Her family lives in Wayanad, a rural region in the state of Kerala. The family belongs to an ethnic minority. Soorya’s parents are poor and have to work hard to make a living. Soorya was born on May 15, 2009. The young couple had hoped for a son. Now they have a girl – and a “disabled” one at that. Soorya’s parents can’t make sense of Soorya’s cleft lip and palate. They blame themselves. Defenseless, they are exposed to the neighbors’ ridicule and do not know what to do. Soorya’s father can’t stand the pressure and kills himself shortly after Soorya’s birth.
After her husband’s death, Soorya’s mother is on her own. She bravely fights for her daughter’s life. Even feeding the baby is not easy due to the open palate. As a widow, she also has a particularly difficult time. If the man dies, his wife in a sense also loses her life in many regions of India. Without a man, a woman is worthless, discriminated against and lives on the margins of society.
As Soorya grows, the mother protects her girl from the teasing of the other children. Soorya is already eight years old when employees of our treatment center in Mangalore discover the girl in her home village. The cleft in Soorya’s upper lip stretches up to her nose, and she also has a deformation on her lower lip. In addition, there is an open palate that severely affects Soorya’s life. The cleft palate has grown over the years. The girl cannot eat and drink properly and is difficult to understand. She is teased by other children and therefore rarely goes to school.
Soorya lives with her mother in her grandfather’s house. The mother makes a living for the family as a day laborer on coconut and betel nut plantations. She is weighed down by her fate and the constant concern for her daughter. Our project staff explain that Soorya can be helped. At least two operations will be necessary. Dr. Naveen Rao, an experienced surgeon and head of one of our two cleft centers in Mangalore, will do it for free. Soorya’s mother finally has hope again.
Shortly thereafter, Soorya is operated on for the first time to close the cleft lip. The girl’s fate seems to be changing for the better for the first time: the first big step has been taken. Next is the palate surgery, where the deformation of the lower lip also is to be treated and a correction of the nose is planned. However, the important second intervention has not yet taken place. Dr. Naveen fights the resistance of the girl’s grandfather, who fears that his granddaughter may become a victim of organ traffickers. The fate of the girl is very important to the committed doctor. He even goes on an arduous day trip to visit the family in person, hoping to convince Soorya’s grandfather.
Soorya is happy that her cleft lip has been closed. She is now being teased and laughed at less by the other children. Nevertheless, she has hardly any friends. Because of her cleft palate, she speaks very indistinctly. Only her two best friends and her family understand her. Unfortunately, such stories are not uncommon. Only through consistent educational work can we help the many cleft children who have a similar fate. It is our goal to find these children, who are often hidden by their parents and grow up in isolation, and to convince their families to accept treatment – and thus to bring about long-term change.