On a bright Monday morning, Doriane Kundwa, 19, Miss Rwanda, together with Idah Nguma, 23, Miss World Kenya, headed to Rwagamana hospital to visit children with cleft lip and palate.
The beauty queens started their journey from Kigali city centre at 8.30 am, accompanied by Esther Njoroge, the Africa Director of Smile Train, an international NGO which provides free correctional surgeries to children with cleft lip and palate.
They first paid a short visit to Dr Theophile Dushime, the Director General of clinical services at the Ministry of Health, then headed to the hospital where they received an overwhelming welcome.
There, they got the opportunity to interact with cleft patients willing to share their stories. They also interacted with the staff, and met the Rwamagana district mayor.
Currently, the hospital is treating over 150 cleft patients, mostly young children under the age of two and the elderly. Smile Train is their main sponsor, covering the costs of the surgeries.
“What touched me most,” says Nguma “was the story of this one child that had been abandoned at birth”.
The minute the baby was born with cleft lip and palate, the husband left his wife assuming that she was a witch who had given birth some creature that is not human.
Even neighbours did not want to be associated with her any longer, but she remained strong for her baby. After the kid went through his first surgery to treat the cleft lip, the father recognised his child and came back to his wife.
Now the child is being treated for his palate. “The stigma around cleft lip and palate is insane! Some people truly believe that these children are things and not human beings” says Miss World Kenya with a lot of emotion.
Miss Rwanda, herself was very touched, and decided to come on board, supporting the project on the ground.
Since Nguma was crowned Miss Kenya in October 2014, she has worked towards advancing the plight of children living with cleft lip and palate.
“You cannot wake up one day and suddenly decide to do something.
It has to come from a passion and the goodness of your heart,” she says.
For her, that passion is her unconditional love for children, and that alone motivates her to fight every day.
Before becoming the Ambassador of Smile Train in Kenya, she admits she knew little about congenital deformity.
She never paid that much attention when coming across cleft patients, always assuming that they had scars resulting from accidents.
However, the moment she realised that it was much more than mere aesthetics as it prevents children from breathing and speaking properly, and that it can be repaired and restored, she decided to dedicate herself to the cause.
Coming to Rwanda was also a way for her to spread a message. “First and foremost, these children are like any other human beings. They suffer from a congenital deformity which can easily be dealt with free of charge in partnering hospitals” mentions the beautiful Miss World Kenya.
Indeed, results are immediate and the healing time does not exceed two weeks.
She urges Rwandans to stop the stigma around this condition, and instead, refer children living with cleft lip and palate to one of the partnering hospitals, namely Rwamagana and Gihundwe, where they can receive a free treatment.
Her visit to Rwanda was the last stop of her East African tour after Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
While travelling around these countries, her goal was the same: engage all her East African counterparts so as to integrate them into the programme and help reach out to more people who need help, especially in remote areas.
“I am hoping that we will get rid of cleft in Africa in a few years time. The only cases we will have will be of new born babies and we will be able to immediately treat them,” Nguma says of her dream.
Until then, she plans to mobilise people, raise awareness and take part to outreach programmes.
Her reign is soon coming to an end as she only has two weeks left, but “once you go queen, you can’t go back” says Miss World Kenya, promising that she will keep fighting for the cause.