Now, Marsillas is Living the Dream

And her mother is too, thanks to you

Zinash holding Marsillas and a picture of her before her cleft surgery. Both are smiling

When Zinash learned she was pregnant, she felt as though she was the one brought to new life. The dream she had had since girlhood rushed back to her in high definition: A smiling doctor hands her a tiny, screeching bundle in a striped blanket. Delicately, and with an even brighter smile, she cradles it in her arms. Putting her child to her breast for the first time, Zinash can already see that her scarcely open eyes are large, dark, and beautiful. Just like her father’s. Then she falls in love with how her little one’s tiny earlobes are detached like her own and how her chin is perfectly rounded just like her mother’s, who, crying by her side, is now a proud āyaytē. Though the room is crowded with other family and doctors and nurses, the rest of the world falls away as she and her baby drink each other in.

Marsillas’ actual birth ended up being nothing like that. The doctor approached Zinash, radiating anxiety. As she took her baby in her arms, never in her wildest fantasies could she have imagined her real face: She had a cleft.

Of course, she still loved her precious child, even more than she ever dreamed possible.

A professional photograph of Marsillas before cleft surgery
Marsillas has always had an irresistible smile

The moment Zinash put Marsillas to her breast, she choked. Further attempts at feeding produced only further frustration and fear. The milk dripped out her nose, into her lungs, and seemingly everywhere but into her stomach. She cried with hunger night and day, and Zinash cried with her.

Through it all, her husband, Getu, was always there with hugs and encouragement.

The three of them needed each other badly because they had no other family support. Instead of sending love or offering support, their relatives repeated hurtful superstitions that wrongly blamed Zinash for Marsillas’ cleft. As if providing the care her child needed wasn’t already stressful enough.

She felt she had no choice but to break off contact with them.

Thankfully, Zinash and Getu weren’t alone for long. They soon discovered Smile Train partner Yekatit 12 Hospital right in Addis Ababa, where the staff ran to embrace them and their special baby just like family should.

The cleft team immediately examined Marsillas and taught Zinash special techniques for feeding her. Though they determined Marsillas was too frail to undergo cleft surgery safely at that time, they developed a plan to get her to a healthy enough weight as soon as possible. And, they reassured her parents, thanks to Smile Train’s generous donors around the world, all of the cleft care their little girl ever needed would be 100% free.

The family would not let this miracle go to waste. Zinash took Marsillas to every follow-up appointment and obeyed the team’s instructions to the letter.

It worked, and one month after her first birthday, Marsillas received the best present imaginable: Her first cleft surgery, to heal her cleft lip.

Marsillas smiling today
Marsillas today

But that couldn’t be the end of her cleft journey or of the family’s relationship with Yekatit 12 Hospital. Truly treating a cleft requires so much more than a single surgery. Children with clefts usually require multiple surgeries over their first 20 years, plus speech therapy, orthodontics, specialized dental work, and so much else to not only smile on the outside but thrive on the inside.

Marsillas holding a picture of herself before cleft surgery
Marsillas has come a long way

By training, equipping, and empowering local medical teams in more than 75 countries , Smile Train fosters long-term relationships between children with clefts, their families, and local cleft experts that last for life. Through this unique, sustainable model, our patients not only receive high-quality, comprehensive care when they need it, they gain role models who know them by name, speak their language, understand their culture, and genuinely care about them.

Six months after her first life-changing surgery, Marsillas received her second one, this time to close her cleft palate. It was right on time. Now, she could eat and gain weight just like any other child.

Marsillas smiling, in a while dress standing on a swing
Marsillas is ready to swing into life

Marsillas is now in kindergarten and at the top of her class. And in watching her grow and achieve and smile, her parents are living their dreams, too.

Children like Marsillas in 75+ countries can eat, speak, smile, and live their dreams only thanks to generous people like you.