Dennis Depends on the Kindness of Strangers

November 13, 2017 | Smile Train

Juliana Kipngetich of Kibailuk, Kenya thought she knew what to expect for the birth of her ninth child, but, instead, was in “shock and disbelief” when she saw that her son Dennis was born with a cleft lip. Juliana had never seen a cleft before, and did not know that cleft surgery was possible. “I was inconsolable for months — I spent every second worrying for his future,” she said.

When Dennis was two months old, Juliana was relieved to learn that cleft surgery was possible at a nearby hospital, but left shattered once she found out that the cost was far more than her family could afford.

Smile Train Kenya

As Dennis grew older, Juliana kept him out of school because she feared that he would be bullied without her protection. For nine long years, Dennis spent the majority of his time indoors helping with household chores, while watching his siblings and peers go to school.

School Kenya

Dennis’ life changed when a local pastor, Paul Cheruiyot, opened a new school only minutes from his family’s home. One day, as Paul went door-to-door to introduce himself to the neighborhood families, he met Dennis and Juliana. Paul found Dennis to be an incredibly bright young man, despite his lack of a formal education, and pledged to personally sponsor his education. “It took a lot to convince Juliana to let him go to school, but eventually she accepted,” Paul said.

Cleft lip Kenya

Before Dennis arrived for his first day of class, Paul informed his teacher and classmates about Dennis’ untreated cleft lip and stressed the need for everyone to make him feel welcome. While there were some growing pains starting school at age nine, Dennis found school to be exhilarating and soon started making his first friends.

One day, when Paul was in the market, he came across an advertisement for free cleft surgeries at Smile Train’s local partner, Kericho District Hospital. Paul immediately called the number and scheduled Dennis for surgery. Only a few days later, Dennis and Juliana embarked on a five hour journey from their little village in Kibailuk to Kericho where he received the cleft lip surgery they had waited nine long years for.

Cleft lip

Paul reports that Dennis, now 12 years old, exudes confidence. “Although Dennis started school late, he has really caught up with his peers and is now just like every other student in his class — he’s had a great transformation.”

Cleft lip surgery

Juliana adds, “My son is going to live a happy life. Thank you Smile Train for changing our lives.”


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