Hailing from Paarl, Blain van Wyk was born with a cleft palate and lip. He was a mere three days old when he underwent surgical repair for his lip, while his palate was fixed at the age of nine months. Many operations and many hours in doctors’ rooms followed.
“It was hard having to go through so many operations. When I was smaller, I was absent from school a lot because of it, and of course, the children at school made fun of the way I looked.”
After matriculating from Paarl Gymnasium, he enrolled at Stellenbosch University (SU). In his second year, Blain heard about Operation Smile South Africa, an organisation that performs free reconstructive surgery to repair cleft palates in children in under-resourced areas.
“It touched me personally to such an extent that I wanted to become involved. I decided to start my own project and raise funds for children with cleft palates and lips. The natural place to start was Wilgenhof, my residence. One day at lunch, I got up in the dining hall and shared my story, and everyone was in favour of the project.”
Wilgenhof residents were asked to support the project by putting only a small amount in an envelope every month. But, says Blain, he was astonished to find that the envelopes sometimes contained R20, R50 and even R100. These contributions eventually paid for five children’s surgery.
In his third year, Blain’s History lecturer, Prof Sandra Swart, asked him to give a presentation on Operation Smile in class. “Two days later, a girl – to this day I don’t know her name – came up to me and handed me an envelope with money for Operation Smile. At that moment, I realised: You never know who might hear your story.”
Shortly thereafter, he held another talk on Operation Smile SA, this time at the ladies’ residence Sonop, where one of the residents, Jeanine Botha, came up with the idea of establishing a student society in order to involve more students. “Jeanine and I started the Operation Smile Student Society.”
Today, Blain is a proud and confident ambassador for Operation Smile SA, but he admits that self-acceptance wasn’t that easy at first.
“When I was younger, I used to wonder why I had to be born that way – I so wanted to look like the other children. But since I have come to truly accept and love myself for who I am and what I look like, everything has changed. Now I can use my own experience to make a difference in the lives of other children born the way I was. When I look back today, I know exactly why I was born that way.”
- By Sonika Lamprecht -