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A Chance to Dream

A young Filipino girl with incomplete unilateral cleft lip

For some, dreaming is a luxury that is often taken for granted. They think that dreaming to become a doctor, a teacher, or an engineer is as easy as throwing a penny into a wishing well. But, some people believe that to dream is a privilege. One cannot simply say, “I want to be a doctor!” with a face held high thinking that the dream will surely come true. Alas, that is not the case for Rosalie.

Rosalie was born in 2001 on an islet in the Philippines called Kinatarcan Island, 21.7 km away from Bantayan Island. She grew up in a big family with her parents and 8 siblings (4 sisters and 4 brothers). Her mother, Maria Fe, is a housewife; her father, Rolando, is a fisherman who earns less than 3,000 pesos (approximately $60 USD) a month. His income is inadequate to provide for the daily needs of Rosalie and her 8 siblings.

Rosalie dreams of becoming a doctor, however, due to her family’s financial problems, she didn’t think it would ever come true. She could only close her eyes and imagine a world where her dream was attainable. But, when she opened her eyes, that dream seemed so far away.

“My family is like any other family,” Rosalie said. “ Sometimes we are happy and some other times we are struggling.” Oftentimes Rolando would return from work without any fish to sell. Maria Fe would have no choice but to ask the neighbors to borrow money just to put food on the table for the family. Life has not been easy for Rosalie; however, she thinks it’s more important that her family is able to eat 3 meals a day. “Lisod way kwarta in everyday living, pero ok lang at least we can still eat 3 times a day tungod sa hard work nga makakaon lang gyud,” she said. Translation: It is hard not having money, but at least we can still eat 3 times a day because of hard work.

The Struggles of Being a Child with Cleft Lip

A large Filipino family posing for a picture

When Maria Fe gave birth to Rosalie, she and Rolando were shocked when they first laid eyes on her, as she was born with an incomplete unilateral cleft lip. It is a condition in which a child has a cleft on one side of the upper lip (unilateral) but that does not extend into the nose (incomplete). They suspect it might run in the family, as relatives from her grandfather's side also have the condition. Despite this, they accepted her wholeheartedly and have always treated her equally to her siblings. “They raised me well,” Rosalie said.

When Rosalie was growing up, she would get stares and judgments from other people because of her cleft condition. However, her family did not waver from the criticism and were grateful for Rosalie, believing she was given by God.

She didn’t start going to school until the age of 8 because her family knew she would get judged by people. During her elementary years, Rosalie was often bullied by her classmates. She would just ignore them because the bullies were only children. She realized that they made fun of her because she was different and they didn’t understand her situation. She worked hard at school and has been an honor student since Grade 1.

I first met Rosalie in 2012 when we were competing in a contest in elementary school. Several students from different schools in Bantayan Island got together and we were the lucky ones to represent our schools. After the contest was over, my mother and I were walking towards the street and noticed Rosalie and her mother. We approached them and asked about her cleft condition. We then told them about Abounding in Love, a small nonprofit organization that helps provide free cleft lip and palate surgery for poor children in the Philippines. At this time, the charity was just starting out and had only helped only two other children, Sam and Ramil. Rosalie and her mother were surprised and agreed to let my mother could take a picture. The rest was history.

The Road to Surgery

A young girl in hospital after receiving free cleft lip surgery

Before going to Cebu City for her operation, Rosalie had to visit a doctor in Bantayan to ascertain if she was malnourished or had other health problems. She underwent a laboratory examination and physical check-up. The doctor did not find any major health problems except a pinworm infection for which medicine was prescribed. Finally, it was time for her to travel to Cebu for surgery. Rosalie’s school was kind enough to give her clearance to be absent anytime for her operation and recovery period.

When Rosalie arrived at Cebu, she had to take another lab test (e.g., CBC, urine and stool exams, x-ray, ultrasound, etc,). It took some time for her to pass the tests because she tested positive for Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Dr. Mijares, the attending physician, advised her to get rid of her UTI before her scheduled operation. She went back to Cebu two to three times because of this. “I prayed to our Lord Almighty so that this ordeal of mine will be successful,” Rosalie said.

Rosalie had her first surgery when she was 11 years old on April 28, 2012. She remembered feeling nervous and anxious before the procedure. “I prayed to God,” Rosalie said. “I hope everything will be fine. He will guide and give me strength to fight.” Thankfully, it was a success! In addition to this, Abounding in Love also helped Rosalie get her front teeth fixed (porcelain-fixed bridge). Rosalie was so happy and grateful to the organization. She and her family thanked God for bringing them into their lives.

Furthermore, when Super Typhoon Yolanda hit and destroyed their home in 2013, Abounding in Love helped them recover and built them a new home. The family was filled with gratitude. The organization has helped them face challenges; likewise, they hope the Abounding in Love will flourish and help more people like them.

A Filipino family in front of new house that was built by a cleft lip charity
Rosalie and family in front of their new house

Life After Cleft Lip Surgery

As Rosalie grew up and matured, she became more confident and friendly. She worked hard at school and made lots of friends. She even found a boyfriend! The surgery that she received through the Abounding in Love organization changed her life for the better. Back then, she didn’t think she had a bright future…but now, she is hopeful and optimistic. Her self-esteem is not belittled anymore by hate and discrimination from other people. She now has a chance to live a normal life—to make friends, socialize, date, and achieve her dreams without people staring or judging her physical appearance.

Ever since she was a child, Rosalie has aspired to become a doctor. She wants to serve people and help her family rise from poverty. She aims to provide a good life for her parents, sisters, and brothers. This year, she graduated from Senior high school and is currently enrolled at the University of Visayas, studying for a BS in Nursing. Moreover, Abounding in Love is helping to fulfill her dream by providing her with an allowance and paying for her education. Her journey to become a great doctor has only begun.

A Universal Right to Dream

A girl in the Philippines several years after receiving free cleft lip surgery

Due to the kindness and altruism of the Abounding in Love nonprofit organization, as well as the doctors, donors, and other people who made the cleft lip surgery possible, dreaming is no longer a privilege for Rosalie. She now has the freedom to dream high without thinking of disappointments and financial barriers.

All children, no matter where they live, what their family status is, whether they have a cleft condition or not, should have the universal right to dream. Like Rosalie, every child deserves the freedom to reach their true potential.

At such a young age, Rosalie learned to love herself and pursue her dreams despite her condition. Whatever challenges she faces, she continues to work hard in her studies and never gives up. As our interview was ending, Rosalie said with bold conviction, “I will never let my family down and I’ll prove those judgments about me wrong.”


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