Surgery restores  14-year-old girl’s voice Ulenda Shumba

Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, [email protected] 

FOR the past 14 years, Ulenda Shumba, a Form One pupil from Beitbridge has been struggling to speak properly as she was born with a cleft lip condition, which impaired her speech and made it difficult to eat.

It took a successful surgical procedure at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo last week by Operation of Hope, a charitable organisation dedicated to providing free surgical care to children with facial deformities, to restore the young girl’s speech and make her smile with confidence. 

The organisation’s medical team performed a successful surgery that not only repaired her lip but also significantly improved her ability to speak and eat. 

The life-changing procedure is part of Operation of Hope’s broader mission to transform lives through surgical interventions, offering hope and new opportunities to children who otherwise would not have access to such medical care.

Ulenda Shumba from Zezane said from the time she was born, she struggled to speak, which made her a laughing stock in her community. 

“I am happy that finally, I will be able to be audible enough since that was a childhood struggle as someone born with a cleft lip and cleft palate,” she told the Chronicle in an interview. 

“I have a few friends who understood my disability but the rest treated me as if I was just that dumb girl who could not even speak properly. 

“My journey to recovery started 10 years ago when my parents took me to Harare for surgery. Unfortunately, I could only do one surgery and the doctors started with fixing the cleft lip. I was supposed to go back later for the palate but due to financial constraints I could not.” 

Ulenda said the worst part about having a cleft palate was the constant smell that came out of her mouth due to food trapped in the roof of her mouth. 

“It was a great struggle, I sometimes had to use my fingers to take it out as it would rot and affect my breath. I always carry a piece of cloth with me to wipe my mouth and the smell of discharge coming out due to the palate,” she said. 

“It pained me to see that my parents wished something could be done but finances were a great hindrance.” 

Ulenda’s aunt, Ms Zithokozile Zikhali, said the family broke down in tears on Thursday when she gained consciousness after surgery and assured them she was fine using clear words. 

“We were not even sure if the surgery would be done for free since we have been struggling for years just to get it done. When we contacted Mpilo we were trying our luck and we were happy when Operation of Hope assured us that the surgery would be done free of charge,” she said. 

“My niece took time before gaining consciousness, which instilled fear but when she did, she was speaking clearly. 

“The whole family is in awe and we are grateful that finally, she will be normal. We come from a community that doesn’t believe that anyone can have a disability and it was quite difficult for her to be accepted even by other family members,” she added. 

Meanwhile, Letween Mkulungwa who gave birth in 2018 to a girl with a cleft lip and cleft palate said her delivery brought in a lot of scorn from her family.

“It was so difficult for me with others saying I had given birth to be a goblin and we named her Gamuchirai. 

“I had to endure a lot of pain from family but I think my trust in God kept me sane and the fact that my husband accepted my baby with this defect,” she said. 

“We are grateful to Operation of Hope for the free pallet surgery. This organisation has restored hope in our lives and brought us so much joy. May God bless their work in instilling hope in  broken families and I urge mothers to be brave and support their children with defects,” said Mkulungwa. 

The United States-based organisation provides free, life-changing surgery and health care for children. It holds annual surgery camps at the hospital targeting children and adults with cleft lip, cleft palate, or other facial deformations.

A team of 16 volunteers including surgeons, paediatricians, doctors and nurses from Canada were in Bulawayo at Mpilo Central Hospital for a two-week medical camp, which ended last Friday. 




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