Wendy (Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras)

Wendy with her EARTHSPEAK certificate
Wendy with her EARTHSPEAK red hat

Wendy is four years old and lives in a remote village near Santa Rosa de Copan in the mountains of Honduras.

She was born with a cleft lip and palate and abandoned by her parents soon thereafter. To be born with such a deformity un such remote places usually assigns the mother and child to a life of rejection, poverty and isolation. It is held that clefts and other deformities are caused by witchcraft or looking at an eclipse of the moon. The mother is held responsible. This often results in her being cast out by her husband, his family and even her own family. One cannot know or judge the circumstances that led to the abandonment of Wendy by our standards.

Wendy's maternal grandmother and grandfather took the wee one in and have raised her as their own. Her grandparents did all they could to help Wendy overcome the challenges of cleft lip and palate. Volunteer surgical teams from the U.S. repaired her cleft lip and palate in a nearby town. The scars healed but Wendy's speech remained unintelligible. She became shy, withdrawn and socially isolated. The grandparents knew of nothing else that could be done. There was no place to go for help.

Then her grandfather heard an EARTHSPEAK speech camp was coming to Santa Rosa de Copan, a town he could travel to to find help. He brought Wendy, an effort that took enormous courage. He had to travel many miles and trusted that the money he needed for bus fare would be given to him as promised. He also trusted that he and his little granddaughter would have a place to sleep and food as had been promised. He knew nothing of city life. He is a poor dirt farmer who seldom leaves his small plot of land. He knew nothing of being a teacher or how speech could be corrected, but his love for his granddaughter gave him the motivation to risk beyond his fears.

The first day of the camp he was overwhelmed with all he would need to learn, and he wondered if he could. By the second day his confidence was growing and by day 3 he and Wendy were succeeding in practice sessions and smiles abounded.

At the conclusion of the 5-day speech camp, this once hesitant farmer addressed an assembly of over 60 people and told them his story. He told of his initial anxiety and fear and of his confidence and joy in knowing that he had the tools he needed to change his granddaughter's life. He told of how hard it was for him to begin to be educated in a topic he knew nothing of. He knew more of the fields and dirt and plants. He also told of how hard he and Wendy and the other parents worked together after the speech camp day to make sure they would all succeed. No child could be left behind. It was too important.

When certificates were given at the end of the week, this proud grandfather demonstrated how well he could teach speech. His granddaughter responded correctly to each lesson he presented to the group. When applause was given, a shy, sweet smile crossed over Wendy's face. Together she and her grandfather stood to receive their certificates of participationand red hats with Camp EARTHSPEAK written on them.

It is then that he asked to speak and told their story. He also told of his renewed commitment to Wendy and her rehabilitation, and he dedicated himself to being the resource in his remote village that would help all other children and families in similar circumstances.

In one week in Honduras, a man, a child and a future came together to begin a journey that can continue helping succeeding generations overcome the speech deficits of cleft palate for all time to come.