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An energetic and chatty 3 year old, Bui loved preschool. Most times he paid no mind to his cleft lip while he played. But Bui’s classmates sometimes dealt him cruel reminders of his condition by calling him “sut,” a derogatory term used in Vietnam, describing someone born with a cleft lip.

Incredibly, young Bui never cried in the face of the taunting- a testament to the unconditional love and support of his family. When he was born; his mother, Ai, and father, Luyen, had never seen anyone with a cleft lip. To them, it mattered little. They were overjoyed to welcome their third child to the family. Ai’s midwife explained it was not unusual for a child to be born with a cleft lip and that surgery was possible to repair it.


While the local health clinic provided support on how to feed Bui — he had no trouble breastfeeding, which can be difficult or impossible for many babies born with cleft lip and cleft palate — the family’s lack of financial resources made it impossible for them to afford surgery. Luyen and Ai are subsistence farmers. What little money the family makes comes from Luyen’s occasional, inconsistent employment as a labourer at a rate of 100,000 dong ($4.50) per day.

The family was ecstatic when a government agency informed them that Operation Smile was conducting a medical mission in Hanoi — a 2 ½ hour bus ride from their village.

At the mission hospital, the family was surprised to see so many other children like Bui. They enjoyed speaking with the other families and sharing similar experiences in raising a child with a cleft condition. This hopeful atmosphere soon gave way to disappointment. Bui’s medical evaluation— a critical step in ensuring safe surgical care for all Operation Smile patients — revealed Bui was running a fever. This meant surgery would not be possible. Bui would have to come back to the next mission in four months for another evaluation.


The previous journey to Hanoi had exhausted the family’s resources so relatives rallied together and worked to collect the funds needed to ensure Bui could get back to the next medical mission. Arriving to the mission, his parents experienced a great deal of anxiety as Bui was examined for the second time. This time, Bui was approved for surgery!

Operation Smile medical volunteers performed a life-changing procedure to repair Bui’s cleft. Six months after surgery, Bui returned to preschool, which he loves more than ever. The bullying and teasing he once endured is a thing of the past. Bui’s mother said the family was thrilled to witness Bui’s new smile shining. She told us that since his surgery, Bui’s overall health had improved and that he can now speak without an impairment. His parents are relieved that his future is bound to be brighter!

Bui’s story of hope and determination inspires us to keep working. Operation Smile is committed to identifying and treating each child like Bui. Together we can reach out to them, and bring change and hope to their lives.  


"We strive for a world where no child suffers the risks and uncertainties of a facial deformity."

- Richard Lewandowski, Plastic Surgeon, Co-Founder Operation Smile Australia