'Before I had surgery I thought about killing myself. Now I am concentrating on my studies. I want to be a nurse'.
Yirgalem was six-years-old when she fell ill with noma. The infection began as a small black dot in the corner of her mouth and spread, in a matter of hours and days, into her cheek. She had a grave fever and no doctor or antibiotics were available in her remote farming village. Her father and mother sacrificed their food in the hope that Yirgalem would have the strength to survive. Yirgalem was among the lucky ones - some nine in 10 noma victims die in the first few days.
Two operations were needed to rebuild her mouth and cheek. Noma also left her with trismus (locked jaw, common to noma victims). Yirgalem can now eat, speak and smile.
Before Project Harar found Yirgalem, she had lived with the legacy of noma for over 10 years. She sometimes got so depressed with life that she had suicidal thoughts. Her father was very angry that, having survived the terrible childhood infection, his daughter was denied schooling just because
of her appearance.
Yirgalem is much more hopeful about her life now. She wants to go to school to become a nurse.
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