Noemia and her mother, Bendita. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.


Braving the world together


At Operation Smile we understand the special bravery of children like Noemia. Although it’s often hidden by shyness, this courage endures teasing and mockery, with quiet dignity.

Noemia’s parents, poor subsistence farmers in Mozambique, have five children. But Noemia is the only one who was born with a cleft lip.   Her mother, Bendita, was heartbroken. She didn’t know that surgery was an option. For ten years she believed that nothing could be done to help her daughter.

Two hour trip

Then, the headmaster at Noemia’s school told Bendita about Operation Smile. When she heard about the mission, she didn’t hesitate. She borrowed a neighbour’s bicycle and made the two-hour trip with Noemia to reach our team.

Bendita listens as Noemia undergoes a comprehensive health evaluation by an Operation Smile medical volunteer. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.


During the screening process, Noemia was encouraged to play with the other children. Although she was nervous at first, the more she joined in, the less reserved she became. Meanwhile, Bendita chatted to the other parents.

“Seeing all the other parents really helped,” she said. “I found out I wasn’t the only one.”

ten year old with cleft lip

Photo: Zeke du Plessis

People laughed at her daughter

Bendita is a cheerful and kind woman who is quick to smile and ready to laugh. But when you ask her about what life has been like for her daughter, her smile disappears.

“I feel very bad because Noemia is laughed at,” she said.

After undergoing a comprehensive health evaluation, Noemia was deemed healthy enough for surgery. When the time came for her operation, her bravery were tested again.


It takes courage for a 10-year-old girl to let go of her mother’s hand and walk into an operating room.

Two days after Noemia’s operation, Bendita was glowing with joy over her daughter’s new smile.

“I was very, very happy when I saw Noemia,” she said. “The people laughing at her will now be laughing with her.”


Bendita said that she’s thankful for what Operation Smile and its medical volunteers have done for her daughter. She’s also grateful to the headmaster for letting her know about the possibility of safe surgery.

As a parent who has firsthand experience of the care that Operation Smile provides, Bendita offers this message for all the mothers whose children are living with cleft conditions:

“Be patient, because when the time comes, they will be treated as Noemia was.”

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