Mai Luh, 6, was getting a hard time from playmates who poked fun at him over his looks. Mai Luh, born with a cleft palate, had experience discrimination from birth because of his facial disfigurement.
In Mae Sot Hospital on the Thai-Burma border, a medic from Mai Luh’s home village recounts the story of how Mai Luh’s father abandoned him at birth. The medic explained that children born with cleft lip or palate are often subjected to discrimination, which can lead to shame and isolation later in life.
“Mai Luh’s father blamed the mother for the boy’s face. He said she brought shame upon the family. He didn’t want to be seen as having a child with a facial disfigurement so he moved out of the family home. Having cleft lip robbed the boy of a father,” he said.
The social stigma attached to cleft lip and palate does not end at home. Many parents prevent their children from attending school — fearing they will be taunted — due to the lack of available medical care. Mai Luh experienced first hand the cruelty dished out by children in his home village.
“The boys in the village tease me. They say I cannot play soccer with them because I have an ugly mouth,” said six-year-old Mai Luh, whose father abandoned him at birth.
But Mai Luh said he has been given a second chance thanks to the medical mission organisation ‘Operation Smile’, who specialise and provide free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities for children around the world.
This month, a medic from Mai Luh’s village in Shan State brought Mai Luh and eight other children with facial deformities to Mae Sot Hospital where ‘Operation Smile’ had set up its team to start work. The team would operate on over 140 children from Burma over a two-week period.
Following a day of medical screening and tests, Mai Luh was cleared for surgery.
A smiling Mai Luh pleased with the result of his operation said he now looks like any other six-year-old.
“Now I am handsome. People won’t tease me anymore,” he said. Mai Luh holds onto the hope that his father will want to see him now his cleft lip has been corrected. He will begin school for the first time next year.”
Mai Luh traveled for more than three days from northern Shan State to Thailand’s Mae Sot with 10 other children to have corrective surgery carried out by ‘Operation Smile’. The Burma Children Medical Fund helped to finance the children’s trip to Mae Sot from Shan State for the ‘Operation Smile’ surgery.
*Kathryn Delahunty works for Burma Children Medical Fund as a project officer.