The Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) Universe (2016), Miss Debbie Collins, since her crowning has ever wanted to be different from others before her by taking up tasks that will see her touch the lives of kids with deformities. It was no surprise then when SmileTrain, an international non-governmental organisation recognised her as its Ambassador in Nigeria. Since then, she has traversed rural areas across the country advocating for these kinds of children and bringing smiles to their faces.
Cleft lip and palate, according to experts, are variations of a type of congenital deformity caused by abnormal facial development during gestation period leading to non-fusion and continuity of facial structures before birth. The defects can also occur together as cleft-lip and palate.
Interestingly, several epidemiological studies have been carried out in different parts of the world and the prevalence of cleft lip and palate has been well documented in the United States of America, Asia, Europe and Africa. All the reports show different figures in the different parts of the world. In Nigeria, however, about 6000 children are born with this defect yearly according to statistics from Smile Train, an American non-governmental organisation (NGO), which is at the forefront of repairing cleft lips and palate worldwide.
Some of these children are being killed in some rural and urban areas like Abuja and other cities in Nigeria. Parents of such kids with cleft lip or palate are often subjected to severe stress levels of social anxiety as they anticipate the reduced social skills of their wards on their way into adolescence and full adulthood. This problem, experts say impacts on the individual’s self esteem, social skills and behaviours, which could be associated with discrimination, stigmatisation, social and economic isolation.
Also, patients living with this condition are often ostracised from social circles and banished to live mostly in the rural areas because even their immediate relations are not proud to be identified with them. Even in the 21st Century Nigeria, there is anecdotal evidence that some parents throw away their children born with this condition into the river or bury them alive due to traditional believes and superstition associated to cleft lip and palate deformity.
Interestingly these can be corrected just with 45 minutes surgery and absolutely free in Nigeria and other West African countries courtesy of Smile Train organisation. And knowing that most of such parents and victims are poor, SmileTrain even provides stipends for transportation for them to access solution in partner hospitals located across Nigeria.
Surgery as the immediate option treats disfigurement but it’s also beneficial in managing both the physical and psychological perspective of this condition as it results in increased self-esteem, self-confidence and satisfaction with one’s own appearance.
Miss Debbie Collins, current Miss Universe Nigeria and the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) finds all these fascinating and believes she can contribute her own quota in bringing smiles on the faces of people living with cleft lips and palate in the country as the Ambassador of Smile Train in the country. Her first advocacy assignment took her to some rural areas in Abuja where Smile Train is making an impact on the scourge through advocacy and surgery with its partner hospitals and organisations.
Recently, the MBGN was at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH), Gwagwalada to meet with the children with cleft and palate patients in what appears to be her first advocacy work and meet-the-patients tour. On hand to welcome the MBGN Universe and the team of Smile Train, Mrs. Nkeiruka Obi and Miss Victoria Awazie, was Dr. Amina Abubakar, a surgeon.
She told the MBGN Universe and Smile Train team that parents still kill children born with such defects thinking it’s a bad omen..
She said that the advocacy team has to sustain its advocacy work, using the churches, mosques, women meeting groups and market places. She said at times mass media is ineffective because the people are illiterate and don’t even have access to the mass media as a result of poverty.
This way she said more impact will be made in order to tell the people that there’s no superstition about cleft lip and palate and that it could be corrected free of charge through surgery, and the victims could live a normal life thereafter.
At the office of the Medical Director of the Teaching Hospital, Dr. Abu Shehu Haruna, Mrs. Obi, the Smile Train Regional Director West/Central Africa, told the director that as partner hospital they came to see how the hospital is doing and the challenges its partner doctors are facing in the treatment of cleft lip and palate as well as to introduce the MBGN Universe queen.
While commending the MBGN-Universe queen for championing this kind of cause, Dr. Haruna promised the Smile Train team that the hospital will continue to partner the NGO to fight the scourge of cleft lip and palate. He said the project is safe in the hands of Dr. Abubakar and her team of surgeons and would always support and encourage them in doing their best.
The Queen also met with cleft lip patients and some victims who have been operated on. One of them is 10-year-old Daniel Okeke from Ebonyi State. Daniel’s case was so bad that he has to be operated twice
The team of the Smile Train and local government council led by Mr. Okpegu moved on to the Palace of the Ona of Abaji, His Highness Adamu Baba Yinusa, who gave a royal blessing to the work of the team in his Kingdom. He advised the local government council to support the Smile Train team in doing their job.
In his jovial best, the traditional ruler commended the Beauty Queen for taking the trouble in coming to his domain, a rural community for her advocacy work and wished her the best in her reign. From the Ona’s Palace Debbie Collins hit the road for her advocacy work in the rural communities of Abaji. She later described her experience as very fulfilling.
Source: This Day