Zuzi and Her Family Angle a Future, Along with Dentsply Sirona

No one knows the power of hope like a fisherman’s child

Zuzi holding a picture of herself before cleft surgery

Perhaps no one knows what it means to meet uncertainty with hope better than a fisherman.

It’s this hope that Junaidi takes with him every morning as he picks up his traditional long, slender fishing rod and heads out to the river behind his home deep in the Indonesian jungle. If the fish are hungry that day, he will sell one for rice and use it to feed his family; if they aren’t, his family sometimes won’t eat that day.

Stomach growling, he’ll trudge back the next day, confident that yesterday’s luck has gone the way of yesterday’s bait. Today, the fish will be hungry — and his family won’t be.

In 1991, his home had no electricity and the nearest hospital was eight hours away. Still, when his wife, Rozita, gave birth to their second child there, all that mattered to them was how blessed they felt to welcome a new life into the world. The birth went smoothly. It was a girl; they named her Zuzi.

Then, suddenly, their joy drowned in a surge tide of sadness. Zuzi had a cleft.

Junaidi has some nephews with a cleft, and the thought that his new daughter was born to suffer the same bullying and exclusion they did was almost too much to bear.

Rozita was heartbroken, too, but both parents vowed to never stop believing that better times might be just a sunrise away. Even when neighbors spread rumors that Rozita was cursed and blamed her for Zuzi’s cleft. Even when strangers came to their house and offered to adopt Zuzi to free them to care more for their other children.

When that happened, Junaidi threw them out of his house, grabbed his pole, and worked even harder to fish the possibility of better care for his daughter out of the river.

And she needed care urgently. Her cleft caused her to choke on breast milk and she regularly got sick after eating. Often as not, attempted mealtimes ended in tears for both daughter and mother.

So while her husband was at the river and her older child was in school, Rozita likewise cast a line deep into her own murky reserves in search of resolve. Alone with her baby in her tiny house for ever longer stretches of time, she gave herself fully to the challenge of feeding Zuzi. It didn’t always go well, but when it did, it sometimes seemed as though the entire world had fallen away and nothing remained but the serenade of tropical birds and bugs outside her window and her baby’s gentle warmth and wide, loving eyes against her chest.

Though many babies with clefts from isolated areas die of malnutrition, Zuzi grew up healthy thanks to her mother’s heroic patience.

Still, going to school with an untreated cleft and the unclear speech it causes would try anyone’s patience. Zuzi started first grade excited to learn and make new friends, but as the years dragged on, it took every drop of the strength, perseverance, and faith she learned in her parents’ home to maintain her spirit as other children relentlessly tore into her for the way she was born.

Zuzi just before cleft surgery
Zuzi just before cleft surgery

It only got to her once, when she was in middle school. Some classmates she thought were friends started mocking her. She ran and cried but was careful to clean herself up and put a smile on before she got home because the thought of seeing her parents sad was more unbearable to her than all the bullying she had ever endured.

Zuzi entered high school focused on graduating with good grades so she could support her parents and three younger siblings. She achieved that and so much more: Shortly after graduation, this young woman born in a home without electricity was working on the administrative staff of the village government and running an online store on the side.

She was in her office one day when information about free cleft surgeries at Ibnu Sina Pekanbaru, a regional hospital where Smile Train sponsors free cleft surgeries, crossed her desk. She picked up the phone fast as she could wrap her hands around it and was soon scheduled for free cleft surgery the next week.

After 30 years of waiting, the fisherman’s daughter had finally snagged her dream – catching the girl in the mirror smiling back at her!

Zuzi smiling after cleft surgery
Zuzi's long-awaited cleft surgery was sponsored by Smile Train partner Dentsply Sirona

Zuzi’s new smile has changed everything, and nothing. She is still fully devoted to working and helping her family. She is eager to help her siblings finish school so they can likewise hook their dreams. But she does it all now with the confidence and enthusiasm borne of the knowledge that hope is more than a fleeting tug on a line; it’s a reality that Smile Train and Dentsply Sirona create together each day.

Zuzi, holding a picture of herself before cleft surgery, with her parents and siblings
Zuzi with Junaidi, Rozita, and some of her siblings

Even though Zuzi got help as an adult, it is a gift and an answer to our prayers,” Junaidi said. “How cheerful Zuzi is day to day now, always smiling! I hope that Smile Train and Dentsply Sirona will always be available to help people with economic limitations get their forever smiles.”

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as of June 2023


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