Each year thousands of children are born with facial birth defects of the lip and roof of the mouth medically referred to as cleft lip and cleft palate.  The exact cause of these heartbreaking deformities is unknown, but certain populations are genetically predisposed and these genetic tendencies are increased in settings of maternal malnutrition, environmental pollution and poor living conditions.

     A young boy with cleft lip and palate

The deformity can vary from a small notch on one side, to a complete gap on one or both sides, to a complete opening extending through the upper lip, nose and the roof of the mouth on both sides.  In other cases the lip and nose are normal, but a cleft is present through the palate (roof of the mouth) only. 


Girl with unilateral (one side) cleft lip and palate       

  Boy with bilateral (both sides) cleft lip and cleft palate

Children born with cleft lips and cleft palates go largely unnoticed in developed countries with well-funded health care systems as surgical repairs are performed at a very young age or even in the first few weeks of life.  In developing countries, however, limited medical resources make surgery little more that an impossible dream for most children born with this tragic problem.


  Boy with bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate


Like deformities of the body, facial deformities are associated with functional problems and many children afflicted with cleft lip and palate suffer from, ear, sinus, dental, speech and swallowing problems. 

     Cleft of both sides of the lip and the palate

Unlike deformities of the body however, deformities of the face are associated with a crippling social stigma that destroys self-esteem, limits future potential and prevents meaningful participation in work, marriage and family life.

   Girl with un-repaired cleft lip and palate


Many children become outcasts scorned and ridiculed by their peers, spurned by their community and neglected or abandoned by their families.


  Young girl with unrepaired cleft lip and palate


To look into the face of a child with a cleft lip is to witness the unmistakable condemning quality and the brutal dominance of this bewildering and devastating deformity.  It overpowers the child? otherwise normal face and hides the beauty and essence of the person behind it.