Quang Ngai, Vietnam – Nicole Friedland, Interplast Staff & photos by John Urban
Lan was treated for a severe cleft lip by an Interplast team about six years ago. She is featured in The Gift, a Phil Borges book about Interplast, and her photos are profound. I remember the first time I saw her photo. I was astounded to think that an adult woman could have lived her entire life with such a deformity on her face. The pictures are haunting and you see the deep pain and shame in her eyes as she struggles to take her hand from her mouth and show the disfigurement of her cleft lip.
We were excited to learn that Lan was willing to visit with us so I went with a photographer and interpreter to her home village, about 30 kilometers away. The taxi driver pulled off the road and indicated a dirt lane to reach her house. Lan was waiting for us, and quickly welcomed us into her home that she shares with her brother and his wife.
Lan says her life has been transformed by her surgery. She said before the surgery she stayed home almost all the time; she hadn’t gone to school or made friends. Since the surgery she’s become an adventurer! Within a year of her surgery, she decided to make a significant change. She had earned her living as a farmer in a rural area, but she bravely chose to go to Saigon, on her own, to find a job and change her life. Her family was very worried about her, but when she came back to visit them a year later they found her to be much healthier and displaying a great deal of confidence. In Saigon, she had a job as a nanny, and she was making friends in the big city.
Caring for the children helped convince Lan that she wanted to have a child of her own. She says ten years ago, because of her deformity, she could not have imagined being a mother. With shy happiness she touched her belly and shared that she was three months pregnant. She had recently returned from Saigon to have her child in the care of her family. She hopes to return to Saigon after the baby is born.
We asked her if she had anything to say to the volunteers and donors who helped make her surgery possible and she said very clearly, “Thank you.”