SPECIAL PLACE IN MY HEART. Sgt. Donardo Mones of the 5th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army gladly shows a picture of his now six-year-old son, a beneficiary five years ago of a free surgery for children with cleft lip and palate by the Craniofacial Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. Now part of the project, Mones sits at the Adventist Medical Center in Lanao del Norte, where another free operation was being done for other children with cleft lip and palate, who, he said, have a special place in his heart. (Photo by Divina M. Suson)
ILIGAN CITY -- Around 60 children with cleft lip and palate from known conflict areas in Lanao del Norte were recipients of free surgical operations this year held last Nov. 15-17. Now, the children, ages one to 16 years, can flash their innocent smiles and talk clearly.
The Adventist Medical Center, where the surgeries were done, said it was all made possible through the Alagad Pahiyom (Service through Smile) Project of the Rotary Uptown Iligan, the Craniofacial Foundation of the Philippines, Inc., and the 5th Mechanized Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
Lt. Col. Ronel Manalo, 5th Mech commander, said the children with such deformities, ages 1-16 years, were gathered from the towns of Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Munai, and Kolambogan, all in Lanao del Norte.
Munai and Kolambogan are two of the known areas in the province that experienced armed conflicts in the past years.
Army Sergeant Donardo Mones said they met these children through their combat patrol and civil-military operations.
"When we saw children in the community with cleft lip and palate, we recorded their names, addresses, ages and get their contact numbers, so that it would be easy for us to get back to them when there is an operation," Mones said.
The army battalion provided transportation from the patient's house to the hospital and back home. The Rotary Uptown provided foods for the patients and their parents and watchers during their three-day stay in the hospital.
The partner-hospital provided the medical equipment for free.
The children with cleft lip and palate have "a special place in his heart," Mones said, as his second child, a boy, was born with such malformation.
Through the recommendation of his colleague in the Philippine Army, he was able to bring his son, then one year and six months old to the free operation of the Craniofacial Foundation in Manila.
His son is now six years old and a consistent honor student in school.
"It was heartbreaking seeing my child growing up with such deformity," Mones related. "When he grew up, the hole in his palate was also getting bigger. I would always imagine that when he grows up, he would be bullied."
He said he and his wife had saved up for his son's operation, as they were determined to fix their child's deformity.
"I like hearing him say 'Papa' and 'Mama' clearly. Good thing we learned about the free operation for cleft lip and palate," Mones said.
From that time on, he said, he became a partner of Craniofacial Foundation in the advocacy to give free operation to children with cleft lip and palate.
"It became my personal advocacy. Every time I see children with such deformities, I would always imagine my child. Free operations like this are very helpful, especially to the parents, whose income is only enough for their basic needs," Mones said.
Best community service
Lilibeth Dabatos, president of Rotary Uptown Iligan, said the project, which is part of the club's community service program that aims to give hope and better life to children with cleft lip and cleft palate, started in 2010.
Children with such deformities in Mindanao, whose parents have no financial capacity to correct them, are their target beneficiaries.
"We started it in 2010, but this is our seventh year because we did not have it in 2012 and 2017 as we focused our community service on the survivors of Typhoon Sendong and the Marawi siege, respectively," Dabatos explained.
In 2016, the Rotary Uptown Iligan received the Best Community Service Award for sustaining the said project.
Grace Romano, project chairperson of Alagad Pahiyom and past president of Rotary Uptown Iligan, said the project aims to give kids born with facial deformities a life without insecurities at all.
"By giving the children a normal life, it is also boosting their moral," Romano said.
Sittie Faida Cali, mother of a one-year-old patient, said she is happy that his son was one of the beneficiaries in the free operation.
Cali said, before she heard about the free operation, she was feeling hopeless that his fourth child's deformity would not be corrected because of financial scarcity.
Her husband is a farmer, whose income is only enough for the basic needs of the family.
"I'm happy that he will grow up with a normal life and he will not experience being bullied by friends," Cali said.
Common birth defects
Dr. Yolanda Quirino-Abad, president and chief executive officer of Craniofacial Foundation, explained that there are two ways a child could have cleft lip and cleft palate -- genetic and effect of medicines.
Cleft lip and cleft palate are openings or splits in the lower lip, the roof of the mouth (palate), or both. It results when facial structures that are developing in an unborn baby do not close completely.
Cleft lip and cleft palate are among the most common birth defects.
The problems with genes are passed down from one or both parents. It may also occur along with other syndromes or birth defects.
But it will not necessarily manifest in every generation, the physician said.
"A child could have cleft lip and palate if the pregnant mother has taken a wrong medicine," Quirino-Abad also added. (PNA)