Farida is a little bundle of energy who has been buzzing around CURE Niger for about three years now. Though you can’t see it anymore, Farida was born with a cleft lip. While this condition is a shock for most mothers, Farida’s mother, Roukaya, was prepared. Like Farida, Roukaya was born with a cleft lip and knew firsthand the life of discrimination and struggle that awaited Farida. “I was loved by some and hated by others,” Roukaya told us in a matter of fact tone. “It’s just the way it is when someone has a disability in Niger.”
Despite her disability, Roukaya had managed to live a full life. She downplays the struggles of growing up with a cleft lip in a society that often hides away those who are different. Many people with a disability in Niger can not find work and earn money through begging. However, through Roukaya’s joyful and infectious will, she has carved out a good life for herself. She married and realized her dream of becoming a mother. These are both highly respected accomplishments in Niger that many women with disabilities never attain.
Roukaya had reason to despair when she saw that her firstborn daughter was also born with a cleft lip, but instead, she rejoiced in Farida’s birth! “I didn’t think bad things. I just praised God for Farida,” Roukaya tells us as a smile lights up her face. Unfortunately, the local community had a different reaction. “They told me she’s ugly, disabled, and evil,” Roukaya said. Those are heartbreaking words for any mother to hear about her daughter. But, Roukaya smiled and told us, “I knew she was beautiful.”
Roukaya and Farida settled into their new life together. Farida is lucky to have a mother like Roukaya who knows that true beauty and worth are not dependent on physical attributes. Also, Roukaya’s past left her especially equipped to help Farida navigate the obstacles of her life with a disability. What they did not expect is to receive treatment for Farida’s condition so soon!
At CURE Niger, we operate outreach missions to find people with correctable conditions, just like Farida and Roukaya’s cleft lips. With the sheer size of Niger, there are always people with correctable conditions who are needlessly suffering when a simple surgery could help them. It was on one of these missions that our staff heard about Roukaya and Farida and made the trip to their home. We were able to share the good news that their lips were treatable with surgery and offer them surgery at our hospital. They took us up on our offer with Farida receiving her surgery first and Roukaya following soon afterward!
Roukaya and Farida’s story at CURE Niger did not end there. A year ago, Roukaya gave birth to another daughter, Balki, who also had a cleft lip. This time, she knew exactly what to do! She knew Balki needed to be a certain weight to receive surgery, and she made plans to bring Balki to CURE Niger once Balki grew.
Since Farida had been so young when her and her mom’s cleft lips had been repaired, she had no recollection of their lips before treatment. Balki’s cleft lip was the first one Farida ever had a recollection of seeing. Roukaya recalls with amusement Farida saying she didn’t like Balki because of Balki’s lip and Roukaya having to explain to her that she was born with the exact same condition. Farida still isn’t completely convinced she was born the same as Balki, but it was the perfect opportunity for Roukaya to teach Farida about compassion and the gift of healing they had been given.
Farida has come to love Balki for who she is and was probably the most excited person to see Balki’s new lip after surgery. Roukaya, Farida, and Balki are an energetic and entertaining trio who have become CURE ambassadors in their community. Roukaya has the wisdom and compassion of living a life with a disability while Farida and Balki are poster children for the life that is possible with early intervention! When asked about how she feels about her children, Roukaya just responds “I am dancing because they don’t have to grow up as I did.” As she scoops them up and walks away with a hop in her step.