Opeyemi: Families, Like Smiles, Come in Many Forms

His father abandoned the family when he was born with a cleft. His mother never stopped trying to make him smile
Opeyemi riding on his mother's back

In Lagos, Nigeria, we caught up with Deborah, the mother of Smile Train patient Opeyemi, just after his life-changing cleft surgery. She wanted our supporters to hear her story so they know what their kindness has meant to her and her family.

My husband and I were thrilled when I realized I was pregnant with our third child. We could not afford an ultrasound scan, but for nine months, everything went as expected and I went into labor eager to meet our new baby.

Opeyemi before cleft surgery
Opeyemi before cleft surgery

Opeyemi’s cleft shocked me. I worried that we would never be able to afford to care for him because we had so little money, but of course I loved him with all my soul. He is my child. But my husband had the exact opposite reaction. He said the baby couldn’t be his because no one in his family looks like that, then sent me, Opeyemi, and our two other children packing. His family also called their new grandson a bastard and rejected us. That was three years ago, and I have not seen him since.

Opeyemi with his grandmother
Opeyemi with his grandmother

Thankfully, my family welcomed us in with open arms and they have helped me care for my children ever since. In truth, I don’t know how Opeyemi and I would have survived all this time without them.

Opeyemi drinking juice
Deborah feeding Opeyemi juice before his cleft surgery. Many children with clefts struggle with malnutrition.

The doctors told me nothing about how to care for his condition when he was born, so I was left to figure it out on my own. I am grateful that just his lip is cleft and not his palate, so he did not have the challenges eating and gaining weight that I have since learned many other children with clefts struggle with. However, he was still subject to stares and rumors any time we left the house, which was hard on us all. I was terrified for him to start school.

Deborah and Opeyemi enter a van to take Opeyemi to his free, Smile Train-sponsored cleft surgeryft surgery
Deborah and Opeyemi board the van to start the journey that will end in cleft surgery. Through Smile Grants, Smile Train also provides patients with the transportation, food, and lodging that make their free surgery possible.

But here, again, we were lucky because just a few months before my Opeyemi turned three, a neighbor ran up to me with a big smile and a phone number jotted down on a piece of paper. She said she got it from an advertisement for an organization that promised to sponsor the cleft surgery my son needed right here, at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, completely free! It seemed too good to be true, but I decided I would never forgive myself if I didn’t call to learn more.

Opeyemi receives a consultation at LUTH before his cleft surgery
Opeyemi undergoing a health screening prior to his cleft surgery at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital

That is how we were introduced to Smile Train. From our first encounter, they treated us like family — or perhaps I should say, like family should — and I could not be more pleased with the care they have provided us from that day until now.

Opeyemi and Deborah in the waiting room
Deborah sits with Opeyemi in the waiting room, just before his cleft surgery

Of course, I was nervous when they took my baby back to the operating theater. But when they brought him out less than an hour later, I was filled with joy and gratitude! The moment I saw his new smile, I just knew he was going to grow up to be successful and that everything would be okay for him.

Opeyemi immediately after cleft surgery
Opeyemi immediately after cleft surgery. His scars will heal in a few days.

I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to the team here at the hospital, to Smile Train, and to all the kind and generous people around the world who gave my son a future. May God reward you all and give you the motivation to continue with the good works you’ve started.

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Our Impact in Nigeria

as of February 2022 


cleft surgeries sponsored since 2002


active partner surgeons


active partner hospitals