Twenty-one-year-old Andrea Munsaka dreams of going back to school and maybe settling down with a beautiful girl from his village in Binga. But a facial growth that has partly obscured his face stands in the way of his aspirations.
By Phyllis Mbanje
He is one of the many people who are eagerly waiting for Operation of Hope’s 15th mission to Zimbabwe. These angels of mercy are expected to arrive at Harare Central Hospital next week on May 10. Munsaka and many others like him are banking on these specialist doctors to rid them of the deformity that has robbed many a young people of their youth.
The mission from the United States has an all-volunteer surgical team, which restores the smiles of mostly children who are affected by facial deformities such as cleft lip and palate.
Munsaka was only six years old when his mother noticed a small pimple on his forehead. The seemingly harmless pimple however started growing into a fleshy lump that began to obliterate the vision on his eye. It also became so painful he could hardly sleep.
He would lie there curled up into a ball as blinding pain shot through his skull, numbing his little body, he recalled. Whimpering like a puppy, Munsaka would drag his sweat-drenched body into the furthest corner of the mud and dagga hut in a bid to escape from the tormenting aches.
“I was still very young but I still remember the pain like it was yesterday,” Munsaka said as he struggles to speak. His mouth has since been twisted all the way to the right side by the growth which now hangs from the forehead to his chin and left jaw.
He was operated on at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo but the growth still came back. For many years his family watched helplessly as the growing mass distorted his looks, eating away at his skin.
Besides dealing with the pain, he also had to contend with a lot of stigma from his community which did not understand his condition.
Some said it was witchcraft, while others blamed it on evil spirits but they all stayed away from him.
“I felt so lonely in a village full of people that I had known my whole life. What changed?” Andrea asks no one in particular as he gazes into space.
However, not everyone shunned him, a local teacher took a particular interest in his condition.
“It was as if the whole side was melting down along with the skull,” Sydney Chigiya, a teacher from the area said in an interview last week.
Chigiya had come across Munsaka while drawing water at the communal borehole.
“I was saddened by the suffering that this young man was going through and I decided to help him get the necessary assistance,” he said.
Then he came across a newspaper which carried a story of the imminent arrival into the country of a group of doctors offering free surgery to remove facial growths.
“I went and spoke to Andrea’s parents and asked them for permission to go and seek help for Munsaka,” said Chigiya with raw emotion evident in his voice.
Last year Munsaka’s parents took him to Parirenyatwa hospital but they were told that his condition required specialist attention which could only be found beyond Zimbabwe’s borders.
“They were advised they would need to raise at least $5 000 for the procedures but Munsaka’s family relies on subsistence farming and could never be able to raise that kind of money,” said Chigiya.
Dropping out of school while in Grade Six was one of the hardest things for Munsaka. He was cut off from his friends and spent endless hours roaming the village and hunting for mice.
“I could not carry on with my education because I was always in pain and my sight and speech had been badly affected,” he reminisces.
However, despite his misfortunes Munsaka is hopeful his situation will be reversed and he will be able to go back to school.
He hopes to be a driver.
“I want an opportunity to work for my parents and help them as they are now aged. It is my time to assist them and be able to provide for them just like they did when I was a baby,” he says in a determined whisper.