Jessa Gatchalian said that she was devastated, but not completely surprised, when her youngest son Joseph was born with a cleft lip — his father and older brother had also been born with clefts. The family was too poor to pay their bills, they would go for months at a time without electricity, so they felt that the price of a cleft surgery for Joseph was completely out of reach.
As a child, Joseph was embarrassed by his untreated cleft lip and grew painfully shy, to the point where if he heard someone come to the door, he would hide beneath the kitchen table.
By the time he started school, Jessa had to accompany him to class and then back home every day so that she was sure that he would attend his classes. During the school day, while his mother wasn’t watching, Joseph said that he refused to go outside to play with his classmates. “It was hard for me to socialize because I lived in constant fear of being criticized or mocked. I avoided interactions whenever possible and I would try to find a quiet place to read,” he said.
In high school, Jessa worked to improve her son’s confidence and prepare him for adulthood. As an example, she would ask Joseph to join her when someone would come to the front door to slowly increase his social skills.
When Joseph was 17 years old, he found the local Smile Train partner, Markina St. Vincent Hospital, and finally received his free cleft surgery. Once home, he said that there was an immediate change in the way that he saw himself. “For the first time in my life, people did not see me as different. My confidence skyrocketed once the mocking stopped.”
Amazingly, Joseph has been working as a customer service representative since last year. The child who used to hide from the outside world, now happily interacts with people every day. He says that he’s saving money from every paycheck so that he can afford to attend medical school. “My dream in life is to become a doctor in the barrios so that I can help vulnerable street children.”