Six-year-old Osawa Owiti is from Tanzania. Already shy, he was often bullied at school thanks to a speech impediment caused by his cleft. “He rarely looked people in the eye and would turn his head sideways to laugh,” recalls his mother. “He was afraid of eating with others because food fell out of his mouth.”

Defying odds 

For children like Owiti, without cleft repair surgery the odds of living a happy, productive life are one in a million. Many face similar hardships throughout their life.

"After he returned home with a winning smile, 'he couldn’t stop admiring himself in the mirror,' his mother recalls."

Owiti was one of the lucky ones. He and his mom traveled hundreds of miles from their rural village to a hospital in Dar es Salaam, where he underwent free cleft repair surgery from a local surgeon who also provided follow-up care.

Tools of hope 

International cleft charity Smile Train partners with more than 1,100 hospitals worldwide to treat children with clefts.

The organization uses a virtual surgery simulator, which is an interactive, online tool developed with technology company BioDigital, Inc., to train doctors in cleft surgery repair. Doctors study cleft anatomy and learn the latest surgical techniques.

CHEEK TO CHEEK: Osawa no longer feels the need to grin and bear it. Now he just grins.

This technology has laid the groundwork for sustainable health infrastructures in regions where children like Owiti need them. More than one million children have undergone corrective cleft repair surgery and been given a new lease on life.

After he returned home with a winning smile, “he couldn’t stop admiring himself in the mirror,” his mother recalls, noting how, with a repaired cleft, his speech has improved and he is able to eat properly. He now attends school and is no longer socially isolated. “He has become a more confident and engaged member of the community.”