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18 March 2008

Operation Smile Provides Surgery to Ethiopian Teenager in Norfolk, Virginia

The life of 15-year-old Edelawit Shekur from Tifrem, in the Gurage Zone in Southern Ethiopia, has been changed forever thanks to the efforts of Operation Smile and Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk, Virginia. Edelawit received surgery on March 18, 2008 at CHKD. Operation Smile CEO and Co-founder Dr. Bill Magee and Operation Smile volunteer Dr. Richard Rosenblum performed the surgery to repair Edelawit’s cleft lip.

As a result of her facial deformity, Edelawit had difficulty speaking and was teased at school. She also started school late, so she is shy and is only in the second grade. Edelawit enjoys math, language and science, and during her physical education class, Edelawit runs with her classmates.

But things are going to change for Edelawit now that her cleft lip has been repaired, reflecting the Amharic meaning of her name, which is “the lucky one.” Edelawit said there are many children with cleft lips in her village in need of surgery.

Edelawit and her sister left their family and village in Tifrem in November 2007, to meet the mission team that was working in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the World Journey of Smiles. They traveled five hours by bus from Tifrem to get to Addis Ababa. Edelawit came looking for surgery because, “I want my face to be normal and kids tease me,” she said, “I don’t want to have problems at school.”

However, Edelawit and her sister arrived too late, getting to Addis Ababa on the last day of surgery. While she did get a free physical examination, Edelawit did not get surgery and their plan was to stay in Addis Ababa until the next Operation Smile mission to Ethiopia. However, the next mission to Ethiopia isn’t scheduled to take place until December 2008.

That late arrival was part of the reason Edelawit was brought to Norfolk. The timing of Edelawit’s trip to Hampton Roads coincides with the Operation Smile Final Mile which took place on Saturday, March 15, as part of the Shamrock Sportsfest. There were also several Ethiopian and Kenyan runners taking part in the event’s marathon.

For the Operation Smile Final Mile, more than 2,000 elementary school students ran 25.2 miles over the course of several months in order to run their final mile on March 15 for a total of 26.2 miles, the equivalent of a marathon. The Operation Smile Final Mile program is a way for children to get fit and raise money for children around the world suffering with facial deformities. Edelawit ran the final mile with those students and with the marathon runners from Ethiopia and Kenya.

On the day of the Final Mile, a young boy approached Samson Tesfaye, Edelawit’s traveling chaperone and Operation Smile Ethiopia Country Manager. He wanted Samson to give Edelawit a message for him: “Tell her I am running for her.”

Edelawit and Samson are being hosted by the Budorick family of Virginia Beach for approximately one week, before returning home to Ethiopia. Virginia Beach is a big change from her home in Tifrem, a rural environment without electricity or water.

“The plane ride and all the cars here are very exciting,” Edelawit said, “It’s not like it is back home.”

Despite her shyness, Edelawit is getting along very well with the family, which includes three daughters. The girls enjoy jumping rope together and playing soccer.

Now that her lip has been repaired, Edelawit can look forward to returning to her mother and home. Edelawit hasn’t seen her since that initial trip to Addis Ababa in November.

“I want to go back to school, and help my mother. I miss my family,” Edelawit said. “And I want to be a doctor when I grow up,”

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