It has been almost 12 months since Interplast volunteer teams have been able to return to the Asia and Pacific regions to provide essential services to those who had been kept waiting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been honoured to share stories from people like Moceiwai and Joseph, who underwent successful procedures performed by Interplast teams and now face a future of increased opportunity, mobility and wellbeing.

However, there can be just as much reason to celebrate the stories of those who don’t receive surgery.

During our recent trip back to Tonga, our visiting team followed up with Dafne. We first met Dafne and her mother in 2017. At three months of age, her mother brought her to Vaiola Hospital for an operation to repair her cleft lip. Though this is the recommended age for babies to receive this surgery, Dafne’s mother recounted her anxiety at seeing her baby undergo the procedure.

“I was so nervous. This is the first cleft lip in our family and our little village. But I said to myself ‘It’s okay. This team is doing their best to take care of my baby. ’”

A young baby with a cleft lip is held by her mother, who is speaking to a surgeon.

Dafne held by her mother in 2017.

With care, Interplast volunteer Dr Graham Sellars and local surgeon Dr David Tuungafasi performed the necessary operation and Dafne was back in her mother’s arms soon after. Her cleft lip was successfully repaired, much to the relief and happiness of her mum.

“I would like to thank all of the team. I hope that the team will come back to Tonga again so I can tell them. I cannot express how I feel right now to see her doing good, happy, and very hungry. I am so happy to see my daughter after surgery.”

Dafne with her cleft lip recently repaired, held by her mother who is smiling.

Dafne after her successful surgery.

This year the visiting team were able to follow up with Dafne, who is now six years old! Dafne has grown up without complications with eating, breathing and speaking that she would have faced with a cleft lip. After consultation, it was clear that she would not need any further procedures for the indefinite future. She is free to spend her time continuing to grow, play and learn.

Dafne, now a young girl, playing on a slide.

Dafne in 2023, now six years old.

Dafne’s story is our hope for all children who are born with cleft lip. Every child has the right to quality health care that can help them live a life with greater opportunity and wellbeing.

This trip was made possible by the Rotary Clubs of the Mornington Peninsula Cluster in District 9820 and Rotary Clubs of District 9920. We also acknowledge the invaluable support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).