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A Cleft Lip Surgery for a Two-Year-Old

Delsi Kapitan with his father

Delsi Kapitan was born with a cleft lip and therefore she has a hard time eating, talking, and even playing with friends.

Fortunately, this is almost a thing of the past, as she will get surgery soon. The two-year-old will then be able to eat and play, and excitngly learn to talk properly just like other toddlers.

Little Delsi looks thoughtfully and curiously around her, while she is nibbling a soy bean. That’s not so easy with a cleft lip, but by constantly pushing the bean back with her little hand, she has found a way to manage it. She peeks at me sometimes, when she is not hiding her face in the arms of her father, Wilhelmus Kapitan. Together with him, she has just arrived in Rumah Bicara, the homestay in Bali where Delsi and other patients get prepared for their surgery. This is the first time that Delsi and her father are anywhere other than their birthplace, Seram Island. The trip to Bali took a total of more than 14 hours.

The Kapitan family lives in an isolated area of the Indonesian island of Seram. Compared to Bali, the people of Seram Island are really poor: for the Kapitan family, electricity is a luxury they will never experience. The eight of them live in a small wooden hut and everybody works hard to make ends meet. Delsi’s father chops wood in the forest for a living, and he tries to sell it at the market. “But often I have bad days,” he explains. “The days that I don’t sell any wood means we don’t earn any money. Mostly we live on less than Rp933,587 (EUR60) a month.”

Delsi Kapitan

In Indonesia, the average wage varies per island and region, but it often varies between Rp1.9 million (EUR120) and Rp3.1 million (EUR200) a month. Obviously, the Kapitan family earns below the average income. Surgery for Delsi is definitely not affordable for her father to pay. Even a trip to the nearest hospital takes about two hours by car and one hour by boat, which would cost them Rp233,396 (EUR15). Wilhelmus says that he could never afford that. A surgery costing from Rp9.1million (EUR585) is all but unimaginable.

Two weeks ago, our local scout found out about young Delsi. Kolewa Foundation volunteers, Ed and Miranda Monteiro, were sold when they heard about her story and when they saw photos of her. They didn’t hesitate at all and offered to pay for Delsi’s surgery. Everything went fast: one of our team members travelled to Seram Island to pick up Delsi and her father, then brought them to our shelter at Rumah Bicara in Bali.

“I still can’t believe we got this chance,” Wilhelmus says with surprise. “We had already accepted that our little girl would have to live like this forever. I’m so relieved for her future; she has way more chance of getting a job now than before. Even eating for her was hard, that is why she is so skinny.”

Except for the eating and speech problems, there is another disadvantage for people with a cleft lip to deal with. Due to social barriers, these people are often excluded from communities. As a result, they can fall into social isolation as they are less likely to make friends, find a partner, and find a job. For Delsi, this minor intervention means a major change for the rest of her life.

Visit the website www.kolewa.com for further details.

See: Bules Trying Traditional Indonesian Medicine

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