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From Cleft to Courage: Efren’s Story of Triumph and Finding Friends

Shooting hoops brought a moment of acceptance, but it was short-lived. Born with a cleft, Efren never felt like he belonged.

 


Efren held the ball high, and with a deep breath, he took his shot. The ball rolled around the basketball hoop before eventually going through. The crowds cheered for Efren, and for the first time, he felt accepted. However, it only lasted a moment, and then he woke up.


Efren never felt like he belonged with his peers due to being born with a cleft lip and palate. He would sometimes compare his appearance to other children his age and wonder why he was born differently. He often experienced discrimination from other kids, strangers, and neighbors because of his cleft, and thus became introverted and quiet.


Efren grew up in Madridejeous, Bantayan Island. His father is a fisherman who only earns 200 pesos ($4 USD) a day. His income is not enough to support the large family.

Filipino child with cleft with his family in front of their house at Bantayan Island
Efren with his family in front of their house at Bantayan Island

At the age of six, Efren was brought to Cebu City, hoping for free cleft surgery. Unfortunately, he failed the laboratory screening, and the family returned home disappointed and discouraged. Due to their financial situation, they were unable to afford another trip to Cebu City.


Four years later, they received news that would change their lives forever.


Abounding in Love met Efren when he was only ten years old. His parents were overjoyed when we informed them that we would cover the cost of transportation, food, and lodging during the next medical mission. Efren was excited for the chance to have cleft surgery, an experience he had been waiting for most of his young life.

A Filipino child with cleft visiting a dentist

In June 2014, Abounding in Love partnered with Operation Smile at a medical mission. Finally, it was time for Efren to travel to the city again, but this trip would be different—it would change his life forever. Thanks to the amazing medical team and volunteers at the mission, his cleft lip was finally repaired.


But Efren’s story doesn’t end there. A year later, he returned to the city for free cleft palate surgery. At long last, the challenges he endured due to his cleft were behind him.

 

Efren's Life after Cleft Surgery

Efren, a child born with cleft pose holding a picture of him before his cleft surgery


In 2021, we visited Efren to see how his life had changed after his surgery. At 17 years old, he wasn't the same person he was when we first met him. He was outgoing and extroverted. He loves to play basketball with his friends. Prior to his surgery, other children excluded him, but now, they invite him to play.


The surgery not only changed his physical appearance but also increased his self-confidence. This newfound confidence now inspires others; despite his condition, Efren persevered.



His family continued to struggle financially, but they soldiered on. During the pandemic, they moved to an island in Masbate City, leaving the life they'd built on Bantayan Island behind.


Efren’s father was offered a job there by a family member who owned a fishing boat. He had no choice but to accept the job because they didn't have their own boat on Bantayan Island.

Efren, a child with cleft  with his family in their new home at Camotes Island,  Philippines
Efren and his family seven years after his surgery

Life has been difficult for them. The father's income depends only on the fish they catch. If the weather is bad, they may have to stop fishing for a month. With no livelihood, they are forced to borrow money from their employer. They dream of owning their own fishing boat one day so they can return to Bantayan Island. They miss their family in their old home, but they continue to visit during the holidays.

A Filipino young man writing

Efren had to repeat 7th grade because he couldn't finish the school year when they had to move. He also had to help his father with fishing so the family could put food on the table. He misses his life on Bantayan Island, but he has new friends at Masbate. Basketball is his favorite activity with his newfound friends.



Life after cleft surgery has been a rollercoaster of emotions for Efren and his family. The move to Masbate has undoubtedly been life-changing. It just goes to show how uncertain life can be; they never imagined they would be living 200 km away from where they grew up.


Despite their daily struggles, Efren’s family is happy and remains thankful to Operation Smile and Abounding in Love for the difference they made in their lives. Without their help, affording cleft lip and palate surgery for their son would have been impossible.


Efren is now a young man who dreams of becoming a police officer. His main aspiration is to alter his predetermined future by graduating from college—a dream that his parents were unable to achieve.


Hi, this is Efren. I am very happy I got the surgery; my cleft has already been fixed. Thank you very much. I want to finish my studies, and I want to become a Police. Love, Efren

The stigma surrounding cleft is often invisible. It is manifested by seclusion from one’s peers and/or not having access to surgical interventions due to poverty. Even so, Efren's story proves that one can overcome seemingly impossible barriers with a bit of help from family and the kindness of strangers.


Life can give us trials and tribulations. We might feel like a ball bouncing up and down; sometimes, we taste the euphoria of highs, and other times we’re down in the mud. However, we can always pick ourselves up and shoot for our dreams. Indeed, Efren is a testimony to that.



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