Every person who is born with a cleft lip or palate has their own story, and here’s mine. I’m Kevin Sonthensei Haokip from Manipur, and I was born on June 14, 1997 at Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (R.I.M.S), Imphal. When they saw that I was born with a cleft, my relatives responded with shock and fear, as they had never seen a cleft lip in our family or neighbourhood before.
While my mother was despairing over my future, my uncle consoled her by telling her that one of my forefathers named Lapmang was born with a cleft lip, and that he had lived his life with an untreated cleft. Legend has it that he was so strong that even ghosts were scared of him during his time.
Since Smile Train didn’t have its programmes in India at the time, my parents took a loan for my surgery to protect me from social judgement. However, though my cleft was corrected, my surgery scars were clearly visible and it resulted in my nose being crooked. Because my classmates and even my siblings would make fun of me, I never had proper friends until class 3. I would spend entire days sitting in a corner crying, hating myself. The only person who I could turn to was my mother.
Then, in 2009, my father came across Smile Train’s free cleft surgery programme in our local newspaper. We were on our way to Shija Hospital to meet Dr Palin the next day! He set the surgery date immediately, and though I was nervous, the social stigmatisation I had undergone made me want to do it. The surgery transformed my life. After a year, I went for a check up, and that’s when Dr. Palin suggested that I undergo one last surgery to make it perfect. Ever since, I’ve started regaining confidence and there’s been no looking back! This period was the most phenomenal time one of my life, because I finally felt like I was living a normal life.
I wanted to be the bridge between cleft services and children born with cleft lip and palate. To achieve my dream, I pursued my Bachelors in Social Work in St. Edmund’s College, Shillong. I am currently doing my M.A. in Social Work in Public Health from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati Campus. I want to be their voice and to make everyone aware that we are totally normal! I even interned for one month at Smile Train India, New Delhi to learn more about how they support comprehensive cleftcare to patients and also spread awareness so that everyone can contribute to ‘Changing India, One Smile at a Time’!
Written by Kevin Haokip. Kevin was born with a cleft lip and recently interned with Smile Train India