At least 23 Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds affected by facial abnormalities and severe burns, will have their lives changed through surgery at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital  

Smile Foundation has partnered with Sensodyne and Lancelot to perform reconstructive surgeries on 23 children at Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) from May 7 to 14.  

The foundation is currently based in 12 of South Africa’s leading hospitals where they host smile weeks to assist disadvantaged children who are affected by facial abnormalities and severe burns with life-changing surgeries.  

Smile Foundation CEO, Kim Robertson-Smith said, “each child deserves to live a normal life and not be bullied at school.”  The foundation has done 1066 procedures in the past 12 months; however, this week, the foundation is focusing on children based at the NMCH.  

Most children will be undergoing cleft lip and palate repair surgery except for five-year-old burns survivor Nonhlanhla Zwane and another child who is undergoing full ear reconstructive surgery. 

The non-profit organization started 23 years ago when Nelson Mandela requested assistance for a child who could not smile — and it has since kept the late president’s legacy alive by continuing to assist children with these specific surgeries.  

This week, Wits Vuvuzela visited the hospital to meet with parents and kids who were waiting for their surgeries and those that have completed theirs. Mother of nine months old Ayama was gleaming with joy holding her baby who was still in pain from her cleft lip surgery, which took place on Monday. 

She expressed that her excitement was because her baby will finally be able to breastfeed as she previously could not latch onto her breast.  

Southern African director of the Smile foundation, Sibusisiwe Yona succumbed to tears as she mentioned that “every 3 minutes there´s a child being born with a cleft.”  

Clinical Director Pinky Chirwa holding nine months old Ayama who just had her cleft lip surgery. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

Meanwhile, mother of Nonhlanhla, Smangele Zwane was anxiously anticipating the tissue expander surgery (for skin reparation) on her daughter. Nonhlanhla was only nine months old when she almost lost her life in a house fire which took her grandparents and cousin. She was in the Intensive Care Unit and managed to recover but lost her ear, some of her fingers and part of her nose before her first birthday. The surgery is especially significant as this month is National Burn Safety awareness. 

Smangele Zwane preparing her daughter, Nonhlanhla for her tissue expander surgery. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

Smith added that they have been working closely with the Wits Surgical Society (WSS) to train them on how to treat burns. “They [WSS] climb Kilimanjaro and host events where they raise funds and that all goes to the smile foundation so it’s really incredible,” said Smith. “We’re hoping that they can assist by going out into communities and educating them further on preventing and treating burns properly.” She added that most people go to the hospital weeks later after being burned which is not advisable because the burn continues to expand.  

The Public Relations Manager of NMCH, Ayabulela Poro took the visitors on a tour and explained that the hospital is designed according to the children’s imagination. “We hosted workshops with the kids and asked them about their thoughts about being in a hospital, they did some drawings hence the doodles on the hospital walls.” 

“You´ll notice the proximity of this hospital to the Wits education campus, that’s because [the land] was donated by Wits as a result of their cooperation with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and this was initially a hockey field.” Said Poro.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Plastic and Reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Sheree Koonin performing tissues expander surgery on burns survivor Nonhlanhla Zwane. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov