Roseline was very surprised when she learned her son, Ebuka, had been born with a cleft lip — this was her sixth child and she had never heard of the condition before. Roseline recalled, “My husband and I were surprised, but not disheartened — we had faith that we’d find a solution.”
Roseline’s positivity quickly diminished when she returned home. First, she was upset that many of her friends and neighbors blamed Ebuka’s cleft lip on a family curse, or, similarly, as a punishment from God. But, it pales in comparison to learning that the cost of a cleft lip surgery at a nearby hospital was far more than the family could afford.
Roseline was cognizant of the rude comments and stares that followed her around every time she left the house with Ebuka, and she knew that her son wasn’t too far away from understanding this as well. Roseline did what she thought was best to protect her son’s confidence and mental health and kept him inside their home for the next four years.
Ebuka wasn’t alone in the home, as his five siblings made it a priority to spend time with him. During this time, Roseline gave Ebuka coloring books and blank reams of paper to help pass the time — he would draw all day long.
One day, Roseline saw a little girl with a treated cleft lip, which she thought looked nearly-invisible, at a local shop where she worked. Roseline complemented the girl’s mother and shared that her own son was living with an untreated cleft. Roseline was amazed to learn that the girl’s cleft surgery came at no cost to the family at Smile Train partner Lagos University Teaching Hospital.
In a week’s time, Ebuka received his own Smile Train sponsored cleft surgery completely free of cost.
Despite spending four years cut off from the outside world, Ebuka has a positive outlook on his life and now dreams of a career that was shaped by those long hours inside his home. Ebuka states, “I want to be a wildlife artist — painting lions, zebra, giraffes, and elephants. Drawing and painting make me so happy. One day I will be an artist in New York City — it’s so amazing there.”
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