Ali Discovers Destinies Can Be Changed

Ali before cleft lip surgery

Ali was born with a cleft in 1946 in the remote Tharparkar desert region of eastern Pakistan. Tharparkar is unforgiving to all its inhabitants — droughts are frequent and nearly one in every three children will die before age five from malnutrition or lack of medical care — but Ali is a survivor. He overcame his environment, the health problems caused by his cleft, and constant taunting and stigma to grow up, marry, and start a family.

Ali developed a philosophy that helped him accept life’s hardships with grace: “One must hide grief and live on; we cannot change our destiny.” But when he became a grandfather, he experienced a heartbreak so great, even he couldn’t hide it: The sight of his grandchildren running away from him because they were afraid of his untreated cleft lip. He wanted nothing in the world so badly as to laugh and play with them, but his children told him it would be best if he stayed away until the grandchildren were older. “I never felt more incomplete in my life,” he sighed.

Ali meets with Smile Train surgeon

Ali felt his prayers were answered when he saw a poster advertising free cleft surgery from Smile Train’s local partner, Smile Home Trust. When the organization’s chief surgeon, Dr. Ifran Ishaq, asked Ali about his life, the 73-year-old took a deep breath, fought back tears, and said, “Let bygones be bygones.” He wasn’t there to dwell on his past; he just wanted to focus on his hopes for a better future.

Ali after cleft lip surgery

The surgery was a success. When Smile Home Trust volunteers went to follow-up with Ali three months later, they found him on the ground, playing with his grandchildren, a huge grin on his face. When he saw the volunteers, Ali called out, “Thanks to Smile Train and your team, life is good now!”