With a beaming smile and large, striking eyes, Fadimatou’s cleft lip isn’t the first thing you’d see. But, thirteen years of looking different from everyone else took its toll on her confidence and self-esteem.
Adorned in beads and colorful fabrics, Fadimatou enjoyed dressing up and ‘acting pretty’ like other girls. But, any glimpse of her smile was quickly wiped away by memories of teasing and ridicule—a reminder of the lies she’d been told too many times, that she isn’t pretty and shouldn’t smile. Her place in society, her sense of belonging among her 14 siblings and even her identity as a twin was questioned because of her cleft lip.
Filled with desperation, her journey with Mercy Ships began when she and her father made the 18-hour trek from their village to the coast of Cameroon. Ahead of them was her once-in-a-lifetime chance at transformation.
Her father had to wait 13 years to find help for his little girl, and after she was approved for surgery he proudly walked Fadimatou up the gangway. A surgery that took an hour to complete on the Africa Mercy resulted in a life changed forever.
Fresh out of surgery, her emotional transformation began. Fadimatou, who once could barely keep eye contact, was now hungry for interaction. Each day, her physical scars healed alongside her wounds of torment, shame and embarrassment.
While she once did everything she could to go unnoticed, Fadimatou now has a reason to hold her head high. Filled with pride and hope for the future, she’s now shining with a newfound confidence she’d never had before.
Story by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Karis Johnson
Photos by Saul Loubassa Bighonda and Shawn Thompson