Why we are needed

Why we are needed

Our two Ethiopian employees, Sebsibe and Biniyam, cover great distances across eastern Ethiopia, liaising with community leaders and health officials to contact people living with facial disabilities. They explain the treatment available, providing information sheets and photographic processing to help candidate patients make an informed choice.

If the candidate patient decides to have treatment, Sebsibe and Biniyam arrange transport for them with a parent or guardian to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has just one public hospital for every 780,000 people, and this is the only place where they can receive treatment for their disability. To cut costs patients travel in groups of ten, driven by a known and trusted driver.

We arrange accommodation for patients and their guardians during their stay in the capital. The treatment is generally carried out by skilled Ethiopian surgeons. In complex cases, we work with other NGOs who send groups of European doctors out to Addis Ababa.

The patients normally stay in Addis Ababa for a week, accompanied by Sebsibe or Biniyam. Afterwards, they return back to their home villages in eastern Ethiopia. We monitor their progress and offer secondary treatment when required, especially for the more complex cases.

Each group costs just £2,500, a cost of £250 per child. It’s not much, but it completely transforms the child’s life. They return to their village empowered to take their place at school, grow up alongside peers, and in time to have their own family. Past patients have described how the treatment enabled them to participate in community life: attending school, finding work, and going to market with confidence. Meyrama, a patient treated in 2010 for noma, recently got married. Before the operation her disability prevented her from eating properly, and marriage was unthinkable to her.

We now also offer training and capacity building for local health and government officials. They learn how to recognise different facial disabilities, reducing the workload for Sebsibe and Biniyam. By enabling local networks to recognise and refer facial disabilities to us, we greatly increase our reach across Eastern Ethiopia. Our previous patients frequently attend the workshops, explain their problems to the health workers and help reduce the stigma surrounding the condition.


One child in every 600 is born with a cleft lip and/or palate. Cleft lip and palate is a complex developmental problem in babies where the upper lip or palate (roof of the mouth) is not correctly joined, leading to a gap in either the palate or lip or both. A cleft lip creates a opening in the upper lip between the mouth and nose, and looks like there is a split in the lip. A cleft palate creates an opening in the palate - the roof of your mouth. 

Babies with a cleft lip can become severely malnourished as they are unable to suckle and may be prone to choking. Left untreated, a child with a cleft may not learn to speak properly and can suffer hearing problems.

Apart from the daily communication and physical difficulties, such children can confront great social stigma. Many individuals with a facial ‘difference’ are ostracised by their communities, and most of our young patients are denied their right to a school-place.

Babies who are born with a cleft condition in the UK are operated on soon after birth, but in most of Africa it is ignored. Although treatment is freely available in some hospitals, the communities we work with cannot access it. They are often unaware of the treatment. The cost for a young patient to travel to hospital in the capital can be equivalent to a coffee farmer’s entire annual household income.

Our dedicated outreach team travel across eastern Ethiopia, an area half the size of France, working with local health workers to contact potential patients and raise awareness of the treatment available. We arrange free transport to the hospital, accommodation for a parent, and follow-up care. Ethiopian surgeons perform the procedures, building skills and capacity in the local health system, while they give children born with clefts a new chance in life.

It costs just £250 to reach a rural child with a cleft condition and organise the surgery and follow-up care he or she will need to speak, eat and smile like everyone else. If you can help, please click here.

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