‘It’s not witchcraft’ – Seitebogo Peta on why she’s educating parents about cleft palates

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Seitebogo Peta uses her foundation to help kids with cleft palate.
Seitebogo Peta uses her foundation to help kids with cleft palate.
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She didn't know she was different from other kids. To her, the cleft palate was normal. Until she saw how people reacted when they saw her. 

She was lucky enough to get her first surgery as a baby and the second one when she was a teenager. 

Since then, she's been collecting information on the medical condition to help others deal with it. 

She wanted to fight the stigma faced by kids born with cleft palates or lips, with some families thinking it might be witchcraft-related. 

A cleft lip or palate is an opening or split in the roof of the mouth and lip. It is a common birth condition that can occur on its own or as part of a genetic condition or syndrome.

A baby is born with a cleft lip or palate when their facial structure does not develop completely in the womb.

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In a chat with DRUM, Seitebogo Peta (30) says she has founded the Seitebogo Peta Cleft Palate Foundation, a non-profit organization that works with children born with and affected by cleft and craniofacial defects, because she is one of them.

“I was born with a cleft lip and palate myself even though I do not have a picture because I got repaired quickly as an infant. However, the opening of the roof of my mouth was left like that until I was a teenager.

"It was after, when I did the operation, that I realised how important it is to educate black people about this condition.”

Many people seem to hear about the surgical part of the condition but this information lacked the personal touch, she says.

“The minimal education about cleft doesn’t even touch on how to deal with the condition psychologically. Instead, in most of my interactions with the mother, they all blame themselves for not taking folic acid pills in the early stages of their pregnancy. Parents now regret not taking those pills and neglect the fact that this condition could occur whether or not they took the pill – especially if it is genetic,” she says.

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Seitebogo says she uses Fridays to raise awareness based on her own experiences.

“I wear my scar with confidence because I want kids with the same condition to know that they are human, just living with a condition. When I was in high school and still had my palate open I would do cool things like pouring water out of my mouth. I never had a lack of confidence but I didn’t think I was beautiful.

"After the surgery when they asked if I wanted to do a laser for the scar on my lips, that is when it hit me that I was not like other kids. I always wanted to hear people say I am beautiful but I didn’t believe it at the same time.”

She now wears her scar with pride because she doesn’t know herself without the scar, and she says it is that scar that motivates her to raise funds for children because some parents can't afford to pay for surgery.

“I want to bring back children’s smiles because I don’t want them to grow up thinking that there is something wrong with them. The stigma needs to end and we have the power as people to give both parents and children affected with cleft some hope. It is not anyone’s fault and it's not witchcraft,” she says.

She says anyone who wants to make donation for the surgeries can reach out on social media.

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