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The incredible story of cleft baby Maui from Colombia

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Just a few weeks ago, we signed a cooperation with the Colombian surgeon Dr. Jorge Navarro – the beginning of our new aid project in Colombia. At that time, we had no idea what fateful significance this would soon have for a little boy. A touching story.

How it all began

On April 21, we receive an unusual e-mail. The sender tells us about her friend Julia, who lives in Colombia. A few days ago, she had taken in a child with cleft “to save it from death,” she writes. They ask if we know of a medical contact point for the child, and if we can provide financial support for the treatment. Stefanie Huter, who manages our projects in Latin America, immediately reaches out to Julia.

A child’s fate

Julia is originally from Switzerland. She lives, along with her two daughters, Aruna (5) and Abhinaya (2), near an indigenous tribe, the Kogi. The Kogi families have little contact with the outside world, rarely leave their village, and only few speak Spanish. In this village, Maui is born on March 28. He has a cleft lip and palate. The parents are ashamed because Maui looks different from the other children. Because of Maui’s cleft palate, breastfeeding him is impossible. When Julia sees the baby for the first time, she fears bad things. She knows that children like Maui are abandoned to their fate among the Kogi. And indeed, Julia’s fears come true: Maui is just three days old when she finds the crying infant, all alone, lying wrapped in dirty cloths. His parents have left him there.

Guardian angel for Maui

Julia knows she must act fast. She takes the boy to a doctor in the next town for examination. Other than the cleft, the little boy is perfectly healthy. Relieved, Julia sets off to see Maui’s family. The villagers know her; Julia’s children play with their children. Julia tries to convince Maui’s family that their son’s cleft can be closed with an operation, and that he will be able to live a completely normal life afterwards. But the parents do not want or cannot accept Maui as their child. Instead, they ask Julia if she doesn’t want to take Maui into her care. They trust Julia and presumably they suspect that their son will do well with her. Although Julia knows that her life will not become easier with a third child, she does not hesitate. She takes Maui in to live with her. Aruna and Abhinaya love their new foster brother.

The road to the first surgery

And we do not hesitate either and assure Julia of our help. On May 2, Julia presents Maui to our surgeon Dr. Jorge Navarro in his clinic in Baranquilla, five hours from Julia’s home. Dr. Navarro explains the treatment to Julia. That same day, the mold for a palatal plate is made, and a follow-up appointment is scheduled. Maui is gaining weight under Julia’s care, and if he continues to do so well, Dr. Navarro will be able to operate his cleft lip as early as late July.

Help Maui

A helpless baby is abandoned to his fate and given away by his parents because of his cleft. Maui’s story is unimaginable for us. But unfortunately it is not a rarity in our project countries. But Maui’s story had a happy end! And we are glad that with Dr. Navarro we have found a surgeon who takes care of children like Maui, that people like Julia exist, and that we are able to help give kids like Maui a chance in life.

We have promised Julia to fund the surgeries and necessary follow-up therapies for Maui, including costs like the transport from her home to the clinic. You too can help children like Maui, with your donation!

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Julias daughter Aruna with her new foster brother.
Two-year-old Abhinaya also is infatuated with her new foster brother.
And Julia loves Maui as if he was her own child.
Maui’s birth mother comes to see her son at Julia’s.
Mauis parents with one of his brothers.
Julia and Maui in Baranquilla, in the clinic of our surgeon Dr. Navarro.
Dr. Navarro will care for Maui from now on and provide him with the best possible treatment.
During the first visit, a mold for Maui’s first palatal plate is made.
Maui is in good hands at his new foster family.
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From our projects
The story of Maui, cleft child from Colombia
Our new project to help children with cleft lip and palate in Colombia begins with a very unusual case. Maui was born with a cleft lip and palate. His parents belong to an indigenous people and do not know how to get him the help he needs. By a happy coincidence, Julia, a Swiss woman living in Colombia, is a neighbor of the family and offers to help. In search of treatment options, she comes across Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe.
Video: Impressions from Bolivia
The parents of our cleft children are always full of gratitude. When their child is born with cleft, they often do not know what to make of the malformation, much less that it can be treated. And even if they do - most of our little patients come from the poorest of backgrounds. Their parents could never afford the operation. It is an unimaginable happiness for them to learn that their children can receive qualified treatment, and free of charge even. This wonderful, touching film from our Bolivian aid project captures these special moments of happiness.
Video: Impressions from Pakistan
This film, made for our Pakistani partner organization, the Al-Mustafa Welfare Societey, by the father of one of our patients, shows scenes from our work in Karachi. From here, our senior surgeon Prof. Ashraf Ganatra treats cleft children from poorest families. He operates the children from Karachi at the Al Mustafa Medical Center. In order to reach the many needy families living outside the city, he also regularly heads out to local provincial hospitals to treat cleft patients there.