Gilberta Roland is fifteen months old and weighs just eight kilos. The tiny girl was born with a congenitally deformed face but is now in the healing hands of facial surgeons who have worked skilfully to offer her a better future.
Along with her mother, Judith Koletin, Gilberta travelled from Lontis Village on Buka Island with assistance from Rio Tinto, the parent company of Bougainville Copper Limited.
Gilberta is participating in a program sponsored by a group of organisations – including Operation of Hope and PNG’s Pacific International Hospital – which provide surgery free of charge to repair hare lips, cleft palates and other birth deformities which cause both physical and psychological suffering amongst PNG children.
Paediatrician Dr Mathias Tovulu, based at the Buka General Hospital, attended the surgical session as an observer.
He had selected five young Bougainvilleans who he believed would benefit from the facial surgery.
“These conditions are congenital, passing from mother to child in the early stages of pregnancy,” Dr Tovulu said.
“Facial and oral malformations affect facial expression and speech and can cause shame and discrimination in the life of the child and its family.
“They are not due to poor diet or any fault of the mother.
“They are deformities which can pass down the generations causing emotional suffering and possible stunting the child’s growth.
“Specialist surgeons have the skills to restore the child’s face and mouth to an almost normal appearance, greatly improving their quality of life,” he said.
Gilberta can look forward to a bright future, which has been the experience of seven months old Lakisha Vogae.
As she cuddles her grateful parents and Dr Tovulu, Lakisha is recovering from the repair of her face and even has the beginnings of her new smile.