Banay’s Story: Restoration

11 June 2015

MGB150407_16291_BANAY_SB0003 (1)In a house in Madagascar, a 12-year old girl puts on her swimming suit, but doesn’t go swimming. Banay dreams of jumping into the sea, but feels too embarrassed to leave her home.

Her cleft lip makes her feel ugly.

Her older brother, Theo, says she is always touching her nose. When asked why, Banay leans over and whispers into the translator’s ear, “I was ashamed.” It was her way of hiding her face.

Banay is extremely quiet and shy, mainly because she also has a cleft palate. This makes it difficult to eat because food often goes into her nose when she swallows. It can also cause hearing difficulties because the soft palate muscles are connected to the middle ear, increasing the chance of ear infections and potential hearing loss. It has severely limited her ability to produce clear speech. Theo says, “Sometimes we really do not understand what she wants, what she is saying.”

The inability to speak clearly robs Banay of many things that are part of a normal life – things like leaving the house without fear or connecting with people. Banay wants friends, but says that she doesn’t have any. It is hard to build friendships when people can’t understand you.

Banay with her brother Theo

In Madagascar, the average starting age for school is between four and seven, depending on the region in which someone lives. Banay does not attend school, so she cannot read or write. As a result, her future opportunities are greatly limited.

Nurse Brenda Sossou, from Canada who coordinates the Mercy Ships speech therapy program, says, “With a lot of palate patients, it’s not that they haven’t tried to learn to speak or that they don’t have the intelligence to speak. It’s often that they can’t get their point across clearly enough to be understood. So sometimes, they don’t have the heart to try.”
A free surgery to repair Banay’s cleft lip and palate and subsequent speech therapy exercises have restored Banay’s life.

After only one week, she showed great improvement. Her speech therapy exercises included blowing bubbles to teach her how to control holding air in her mouth, a previously impossible feat which is essential to making sounds.

She also had to make funny faces to strengthen her muscles. Banay certainly knows how to enjoy herself. She was a funny-face-making genius, showcasing many creative arrangements of her facial features. The people who will eventually become her friends are lucky human beings.

As a result of all of this hard work in therapy, Banay is learning to put sounds into words and sentences. She was given an abundant supply of flash cards. Brenda says, “The hope is that if she continues these exercises we have given her, diligently and regularly, she will one day be able to have clear speech.”

MGB150512_PAT16291_BANAY_JF0007Big brother Theo says, “We are very happy because now Banay looks like everyone else. We are also happy that her speech has improved. Thank you very much. We are really impressed at the materials used to fix the clefts. The kindness of the doctors and nurses who took care of Banay – we really appreciated it.”

The most wonderful part of this story is that Banay finally feels beautiful enough to face the world … a world that is now full of possibilities.

Brenda says, “I have a tendency to tell my patients that I look forward to hearing about them becoming the next president, or future doctor, surgeon or lawyer … so I can hear their speech.”

And we are sure that Banay will have a great deal to say!