“I want my children to smile, I want them to be able to live their life smiling.” Seheno smiled as she stroked her daughters black hair. Seheno, mother of four, has a cleft lip. Her daughter Mena, is a twin, and she also was born with a cleft lip and palate. Her youngest boy, Fitahiana, also born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate.
“When my twins were born the first girl came into life with a normal lip, the second was born with a cleft. The midwife brought them both to me and I immediately felt sad and nervous. I reflected on my childhood as a young girl who had a cleft lip. It was difficult. I did not want my daughter to go through the same hard times. When I gave birth to my youngest son Fitahiana, he was born with both a cleft lip and cleft palate. Again, I questioned why this was happening to me. I too suffer from a cleft lip- yet I did not understand why they would have one too.”
Seheno, and her two children have attended many Operation Smile missions. This one being a very special mission for the family. Her two children had already received successful cleft lip surgery from Operation Smile. Her son received cleft palate surgery this mission. This mission was very special because Seheno herself was selected to receive cleft lip surgery as well as her children.
“I waited for my two children to be able to smile happily before I received surgery. I wanted them to have a good start to life and a new smile. Look at them- they are just so happy. Seeing them makes me happy. Now me too, I can smile, I finally received surgery! I am thankful. We have a story, one that we want to share. Our story is of strength, of family, of love, and of determination. I never stopped loving my children.”
Seheno sat proudly and wrapped her arms around her two children.
“I was once asked why I think my children were born with a cleft lip and palate. To be honest, I think God gave me these children because he knew I would be able to take care of them. They are my gifts. I understand that not everyone will have the opportunity to receive surgery, I just want to express how thankful I am. We are an Operation Smile family.”
What is normal? What is okay? What is reality. After 2 years of living abroad I have seen myself, my attitude, and my values slowly change. I have noticed that my friendships have slowly come apart and my relationship with things “ back home” have changed drastically, I am not sure how to explain these feelings but can sum them up to be: relative. My world for the last 2 years has been revolved around helping others. While I have been here, I feel that it has been extremely difficult to keep frienships and relationships alive back home. I can only assume that it is because of the lack of relativeness between both lives. A wise PCV (peace Corps volunteer) once told me that it is harder to re-integrate into your community back home than it is to integrate into this community here. Seeing that I am coming up on my Close of Service, the though of re-integrtion is a scary one. My level of comfort with the simple life and current reality make it extremely difficult to imagine coming back to the States. I also look bak on all of the things I have been able to achieve here, whether successful or not successful, I have learned and grown tremendously through each experience. From organizing festivals with audiences amounting to 700 people to visiting the deep countryside reaching out to the poorest of the poor, and educating them about prevention methods to various diseases,
This country has changed me. It has opened my mind to a plethora of thoughts. I can confidently say that this is just the beginning of a long life of service. I am not sure where life will take me after peace corps. What I do know is it will involve serving others. It will involve giving my heart to those who need it most. The most fulfilling part of life is giving yourself, and that is what I intend to do.
Why did you apply to Peace Corps?
When you think about life, about what a life holds, for me it holds purpose. I know this may sound cheesy for some or generic yet I took this moto for life very seriously. From a young age service had always been a large part of my life. I remember having a world map in our bathroom growing up and my mother would pin point a place or even sometimes have me chose a place and we pack our bags and go. Once at this destination whether it was Belize, India, Nepal, China, we would spend some time visiting and touring and the other time giving back. This idea of service never stopped at the small trips we took but became a ritual. A giving ritual. During the holidays I spent my time volunteering at food banks, wrapping Christmas gifts, visiting Veteran hospitals. This became my idea of purpose. I saw what it meant to people that I gave my time. I saw that it meant a difference and produced happiness for them. I saw a purpose. I heard of Peace Corps when I was in Middle School. Unlike other children around that age instead of going to the movies or buying new clothes, I was at dog shelters walking pups, or cleaning trash at the local park.
Once I graduated high school and entered college, I began revisiting the idea of serving in another country for a long amount of time. I enjoy learning about new cultures, seeing new places, and felt that many challenges I could foresee I had already met in my previous travels. .I felt ready. I felt that Peace Corps could provide me with tools to help people serve themselves. Indeed after being here in Madagascar for 18 months, I have learned so much about myself and about how to work in the field. I am grateful to have had this opportunity.
I recently was asked this question and wanted to really dive into what has been my biggest challenge throughout my Peace Corps Service.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
Biggest challenge I have had during my service is “saying no”. I know it sounds funny, “what does she mean saying ‘no’?” Well, once you have successfully integrated, when babies stop crying at first sight of you, and stares become smiles, people become comfortable with you. Every day community members ask me, “Please can you teach me English? Please would you be able to spare an hour to speak with me? Please can you give me books so that my children can become smarter?” When I first got to site, I felt much pressure to say yes to all requests. Soon I realized I could not split myself into numerous people and did not have enough time or energy to respond to all the wants and needs of my community. I became stressed out, not being able to fulfill everyone’s wants. I felt horrible if I said “no”, and would wear myself out saying “yes”. I was able to conquer this challenge, by asking my community for solutions, having conversations about their vision for Mahanoro. How could I develop something that would help many while still allowing me a good balance. The idea emerged to create a Cultural Center. A place that would provide educational opportunities for children and adults, a library stocked with books, and most importantly a place where the future of Mahanoro could develop and grow in a positive environment.
After a long week in Malaria Boot Camp. We have learned about the life cycle of anopheles mosquitoes, reviewed country best practices, and have dissected multiple case studies in order to better understand how to produce behavior change.
On Sunday, we had the opportunity to check out a small yet beautiful beach, Popenguine Beach. I enjoyed the down time and having the opportunity to get to know my fellow PCV’s better. Between ultimate Frisbee and a yummy lunch we had a fantastic time.
First ART class at the center! Students had so much fun using crayons. For some this was their first time, look at the beautiful drawings they made! Many drew their idea of home, family and flowers!
( by the way check out the beautifully varnished furniture ! Spent all morning sanding and varnishing pretty proud!)
We received the furniture from the carpenter today! He did a stunning job! I spent the morning painting bookshelves and varnishing tables 🙂
We decided to organize the books by level.
Blue = medium
Red = difficult
All books have small color dots on the inside cover coinciding to the color of the bookshelves! Students will be briefed on our “lifestyle” at the center as well as the class schedule!