Amina is a little bundle of energy who has been buzzing around CURE Niger for about three years now. Though you can’t see it anymore, Amina was born with a cleft lip. While this condition is a shock for most mothers, Amina’s mother, Roukaya, was prepared. Like Amina, Roukaya was born with a cleft lip and knew firsthand the life of discrimination and struggle that awaited Amina. “I was loved by some and hated by others,” Roukaya told us in a matter of fact tone. “It’s just the way it is when someone has a disability in Niger.”
Despite her disability, Roukaya had managed to live a full life. She downplays the struggles of growing up with a cleft lip in a society that often hides away those who are different. Many people with a disability in Niger cannot find work and earn money through begging. However, through Roukaya’s joyful and infectious will, she has carved out a good life for herself. She married and realised her dream of becoming a mother. These are both highly respected accomplishments in Niger that many women with disabilities never attain.
Roukaya had reason to despair when she saw that her firstborn daughter was also born with a cleft lip, but instead, she rejoiced in Amina’s birth! “I didn’t think bad things. I just praised God for Amina,” Roukaya tells us as a smile lights up her face. Unfortunately, the local community had a different reaction. “They told me she’s ugly, disabled, and evil,” Roukaya said. Those are heartbreaking words for any mother to hear about her daughter. But, Roukaya smiled and told us, “I knew she was beautiful.”
Roukaya and Amina settled into their new life together. Amina is lucky to have a mother like Roukaya who knows that true beauty and worth are not dependent on physical attributes. Also, Roukaya’s past left her especially equipped to help Amina navigate the obstacles of her life with a disability. What they did not expect is to receive treatment for Amina’s condition so soon!
At CURE Niger, we operate outreach missions to find people with correctable conditions, just like Amina and Roukaya’s cleft lips. With the sheer size of Niger, there are always people with correctable conditions who are needlessly suffering when a simple surgery could help them. It was on one of these missions that our staff heard about Roukaya and Amina and made the trip to their home. We were able to share the good news that their lips were treatable with surgery and offer them surgery at our hospital. They took us up on our offer with Amina receiving her surgery first and Roukaya following soon afterward!
Roukaya and Amina’s story at CURE Niger did not end there. A year ago, Roukaya gave birth to another daughter, Ryane, who also had a cleft lip. This time, she knew exactly what to do! She knew Ryane needed to be a certain weight to receive surgery, and she made plans to bring Ryane to CURE Niger once Ryane grew.
Since Amina had been so young when her and her mum’s cleft lips had been repaired, she had no recollection of their lips before treatment. Ryane’s cleft lip was the first one Amina ever had a recollection of seeing. Roukaya recalls with amusement Amina saying she didn’t like Ryane because of Ryane’s lip and Roukaya having to explain to her that she was born with the exact same condition. Amina still isn’t completely convinced she was born the same as Ryane, but it was the perfect opportunity for Roukaya to teach Amina about compassion and the gift of healing they had been given.
Amina has come to love Ryane for who she is and was probably the most excited person to see Ryane’s new lip after surgery. Roukaya, Amina, and Ryane are an energetic and entertaining trio who have become CURE ambassadors in their community. Roukaya has the wisdom and compassion of living a life with a disability while Amina and Ryane are poster children for the life that is possible with early intervention! When asked about how she feels about her children, Roukaya just responds “I am dancing because they don’t have to grow up as I did.” As she scoops them up and walks away with a hop in her step.