by Brittany Breedlove, the program development officer in Niger
Saadiya Yacoubou is 9 years old and lives in the rural Hausa village in south-central Niger. She was born with a cleft palate, which caused a noticeable deformation of her upper lip and nose. Often in Niger, deformations, handicaps, and other abnormalities are seen as a curse or malediction on the person affected and their whole family. It’s commonly thought that these people bring shame on their family and most times are shunned and hidden from society.
I first met Saadiya after Samaritan’s Purse Niger launched a new integrated community project called OPTIC. Through this project, Samaritan’s Purse strategically placed a Christian couple in Saadiya’s village to serve as community development agents. When this couple saw Saadiya, they immediately felt compassion for her and sought help. They welcomed Saadiya into their home and shared the love of Christ with her.
Eventually, news of Saadiya’s situation reached me, and we passed her information along to a hospital in Niamey, the capital city, which specializes in cleft palate surgery. As an answer to prayer, the hospital announced that they would be able to operate on Saadiya and scheduled her surgery for May 29. The night before we were to bring Saadiya into Niamey, she and her elderly grandmother were brought to the Samaritan’s Purse sub-base to spend the night with us. When I was first introduced to Saadiya and her grandmother, she was a thin, nervous, and extremely timid little girl. As I tried to engage her in small talk, she would avoid looking directly at me and would answer only politely with a headshake one way or another.
As we made the eight-hour trek to Niamey the next day, Saadiya slowly started to warm up to us, and I would occasionally catch a glimpse of a smile. Over time, she confessed that her biggest fear was that the surgery would be painful.
Once we got to Niamey, Saadiya and her grandmother were taken to the hospital’s guesthouse where they would be staying. As soon as they stepped out of the car, they were warmly welcomed by other women and children who had already had cleft palate surgery. In seeing and talking with other girls her age who had already had the same surgery successfully, Saadiya’s fear was replaced with hope.
Saadiya and her grandmother spend a week in Niamey before her surgery in order to prepare and meet with the doctors. I got to spend a lot of time with them, and we bonded through going to the market, talking walks, and just talking. During this time, I got to know Saadiya personally and learned what a sweet, patient spirit she has. It made me think of how many times we overlook people or write them off because of their physical imperfections. Saadiya is a perfectly capable and intelligent little girl who has been held back simply because of her appearance.
A Surgery that Changed Lives
As I visited Saadiya the day before she was scheduled to have her surgery, her grandmother explained that the Christian workers had come together and said a prayer for Saadiya. (They are both Muslim.) The prayer had really touched the grandmother and she went on and on about how nice the prayer had been. This opened the door for me to pray with them again and share a bit more about the God that we are praying to. It is amazing how God places people in your life at certain times and can use the accumulation of those experiences to really teach us something. Not only had God selected a Christian family to live in Saadiya’s village, but He had also sent her to a Christian hospital for surgery that would change her life. Similarly, on a personal note, God has used Saadiya and her grandmother to strengthen and confirm my faith, as I had to dig deeper into what I believe and why when sharing with them.
Saadiya’s surgery was successful, and she has now fully recovered. After her surgery, she and her grandmother boarded a bus to go home. The Samaritan’s Purse staff met Saadiya and her grandmother at the bus station to be the first to welcome Saadiya back. The first thing she said when she stepped off the bus was, “I have become beautiful now! But I am not going to get married right away; I am going to go to school!”
Staff loaded Saadiya and her grandmother into the car and they headed for her home village, where the entire community anxiously awaited her arrival. Saadiya emerged from the vehicle with a veil covering her face as the evangelist shared Saadiya’s story and the Gospel with the village assembly. He was able to preach for 45 minutes about the love of God. For the finale, Saadiya’s veil was raised to reveal her beautiful new face. Upon seeing Saadiya’s face, the village erupted in shouts of joy and applause. As a result of this proclamation of love, one man made a decision to dedicate his life to Christ.
Saadiya has returned to Niamey for follow-up visits with the doctor twice since her surgery. Saadiya’s lip has healed wonderfully, and she had gained quite a bit of weight. She is no longer the shy, embarrassed girl that she was before. She chatters excitedly and jokes with me and the other children. Saadiya is now full of life, smiles, and confidence. She was given a beautiful new face to match her beautiful personality.
Experiencing the transformation in Saadiya’s life, not only physically but also in her attitude and demeanor, is a tangible reminder of the amazing way that our God transforms souls and lives, especially for those who are marginalized or overlooked by the world.