Eliene and Elielma, a 39 year old mother and 9 year old daughter, caught everyone's attention as they passed through the stations of our pre op clinic. Slight and shy, they both had untreated cleft lips and palates. Manuela Rocha helped with translation as we sat down away from the bustle and I learned their story.
They live in Tobias Barreto, a two hour drive from Aracaju where Eliene works as a field laborer. She has three other children but middle daughter Elielma is the only one with a cleft. There is a strong genetic component to the incidence of clefts and Eliene's brother suffered from the deformity although his had been repaired. Eliene told me she had been a sad child and hid her face as best she could while growing up. She chose not to have surgery because she was nervous about it and was afraid of dying.
Eliene heard about our mission from a friend and is now ready to go through with it. Daughter Elielma has also developed the habit of hiding her face with her hand and she gets teased in school. Fortunately her teacher steps in and stops it. Eliene was reticent to speak about her experiences although very gracious about receiving all the attention. I told her of the remarkable work the team performs. She closed by saying she is glad to be part of the mission and getting a new face.
Jerry Meshulam, Photojournalist