Mariam Was Bullied Out of School Because of Her Cleft

Now, nothing can stop her

Mariam smiling and holding a photo of herself before cleft surgery

Learning she was pregnant with her first child filled Muksina and her husband, Sufyan, with overwhelming joy and an immense love for their future daughter. They couldn’t imagine giving her anything less than the best life they could provide.

But reality tested their ecstatic dreams of parenthood before they could even hold her. Muksina’s pregnancy did not go as planned.

She was constantly ill, and the couple worried it was a bad omen for the baby.

When Mariam was born with a cleft, they were devastated.

Despite the surprise, both Muksina and Sufyan realized their families had a history of clefts. They knew Mariam had a long journey ahead of her, but felt prepared to see it through to the end.

Mariam smiling before cleft surgery
Mariam’s always had a glowing smile

They struggled to care for Mariam at first. When Muksina breastfed her, milk dribbled out of her nose, choking her. Only love could have given Muksina the strength to withstand the sight of her baby’s body convulsing in coughs. Muksina spent many long nights with Mariam in her lap nursing her, soothing her, and making sure she was well-fed. Sacrificing sleep was worth it to see her baby smiling in the morning.

Mariam grew into a precocious child. She couldn’t wait to start school; she thought it sounded like the perfect place for her: She would make new friends, learn new things, and ask so many questions.

But her dreams, too, ran headfirst into a different reality. Mariam struggled with learning, and her peers relentlessly bullied her about her cleft. Social anxiety and self-consciousness smothered her natural curiosity within weeks. Muksina and Sufyan pulled her out of school. They had no choice.

But they still refused to give up. They enrolled Mariam in another school, hoping for a better experience. Again, the students were cruel. In tears, they pulled her out once more.

When Mariam was only five years old, she asked Muksina, “When will I look normal and have a mouth like my friends?” For Muksina, the worst part was that she didn’t have an answer.

Around this time, Sufyan lost his job. The family had to pack up and move from their home in Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia. The question of how they would treat Mariam was on all of their minds. They were in a new country needing a new source of income, and cleft palate surgery cost far too much.

Although things looked bleak, this move was a blessing in disguise.

Mariam waist-up sitting on a ledge and smiling
Mariam never stopped hoping, and it all paid off

While looking for treatment options in Ethiopia, Mariam’s parents found an answer to Mariam’s question: Smile Train partner Yekatit 12 Hospital, where she would receive the cleft lip and cleft palate surgery she desperately needed, at no cost to them.

It felt like a miracle. In the caring hands of our local partners, Mariam was given the life she and her parents dreamed of.

Mariam and her mother holding a photo of Mariam before cleft surgery
Every day, Mariam’s family celebrates with smiles

Today, Mariam is 10 years old and back in school. It’s impossible to miss her smile, which shines brightly wherever she goes.

Mariam sitting on a ledge and smiling at the camera
Thanks to Smile Train, Mariam thrives in the classroom

She says her struggles with her cleft only taught her how to carry on through life. So now, when things get hard, Mariam is armed with unshakable confidence, and an unshakable smile. All thanks to Smile Train and donors like you.

With your help, Smile Train brings smiles to the faces of children around the world.