Last week, members of the Thomson Rotary Club learned how they'd helped a man who lives across the Atlantic Ocean.
Barbara Fisher, of Alliance for Smiles, gave a presentation at Rotary of the alliance's various missions last year. Alliance for Smiles is a nonprofit organization that sends surgical teams to repair children's cleft lip and palate deformities in under-served areas of the world.
A cleft lip is a birth defect that creates an opening in the upper lip between the mouth and nose. A cleft, or separation, in the gum may occur in association with a cleft lip. A cleft palate occurs when the roof of the mouth has not joined completely.
Alliance for Smiles not only performs the initial surgery to correct the defects, but they provide follow-up and ongoing treatment through established treatment centers and by providing advanced training to health care providers in the home country, according to their website.
Last year, Thomson's Rotary Club entered the mission by donating to a matching grant. The local club's donations helped fund a two-week mission in Accra, Ghana. Ms. Fisher showed a film of the Ghana mission during Thursday's Rotary presentation at The Depot.
"While you're watching the show, pay attention to a man named Richard Tettah in the pictures," Ms. Fisher said during her presentation. "This is a man who each of you made a difference in his life through your contributions."
While the majority of AFS' patients are children, Ms. Fisher said they also have treated several adults. Mr. Tettah is a 42-year-old in Africa whose parents had kept him out of school to keep him from being ridiculed. When his parents died, Mr. Tettah entered the first grade at the age of 19. He completed elementary school and got a job working on a farm. Like his parents had done, Mr. Tettah spent his earnings visiting doctors in Africa, seeking treatment of his bilateral cleft lip; but, to no avail.
When he heard a rumor that a team of Americans was coming to the capitol city of his country to perform free surgeries on cleft lips, Mr. Tettah secretly purchased a bus ticket to get there. He was afraid to tell anyone where he was going because he didn't think he would actually find treatment.
Ms. Fisher said she was at the hospital in Accra, where they had to set up tents outside the hospital to serve as pre-op and post-op wards. She said it was 100 degrees or higher inside those tents, but the patients and families did not complain. When Mr. Tettah finally lay on an operating table, he raised his arms in victory, she said, as if he'd just scored a touchdown.
"After it was over, we showed him a mirror, and he just stared at it in shock," Ms. Fisher said. "He didn't recognize himself and asked for us to give him a document indicating that it was really him, so he could prove it to his family when he returned to them."
Later that day, when Mr. Tettah was released from the hospital, he continued to hang around the post-op tent and refused to leave. The team of volunteers then discovered just how deep Mr. Tettah's faith and desire had been. He had purchased the bus ticket to Accra based on a rumor. But, he didn't have enough money to get back home. The volunteers on the mission team contributed their own money to pay for Mr. Tettah's return ticket.
"Each mission changes not only the lives of the people we serve, but it changes our lives as well," Ms. Fisher said.
Ms. Fisher told of other missions she'd attended, where the hospitals did not even have running water, or the electricity had to be turned off every night.
"Every time I go, I see how we take so much for granted and we whine and complain. But, we really have nothing to complain about," she added.
After her presentation, the Thomson Rotary Club presented Ms. Fisher with another check for Alliance for Smiles.
"Thank you," she said. "I personally promise you it will be well-used." For more information, visit www.allianceforsmiles.org.