Former Wellsway pupil Chris Williams aims to bring surgery hope to people in Malawi

Published on: 02 Mar 2018

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A former Wellsway student is taking on his toughest challenge yet to bring hope to people born with cleft lip and palate in Malawi – the same condition that affected him as a baby.

Chris Williams has raised thousands of pounds for charities working with people who have the condition by undertaking walks and a skydive – and now he is taking on the gruelling London to Brighton 100km Challenge in May.

It’s the second time Chris will attempt the trek, which he estimates will take up to 30 hours to complete, after he and partner James had to drop out in 2016 after 18 and half hours of walking.

They have set themselves a fundraising target of £2,000, which will sponsor an operating table on a medical mission to Malawi, helping more than 150 people undergo cleft surgery.

The treatment is provided by international medical charity Operation Smile UK, where Chris is community partnerships manager and last summer he joined the medics on a visit to Zomba in Malawi.

The operation isn’t just cosmetic – a cleft lip and palate can affect feeding and Chris said he was shocked to learn there were many myths and stigma surrounding the condition in the African country.

Chris said: “Bus after bus of patients arrived at Zomba Hospital for screening – it was quite overwhelming. Some of them had been travelling for over 13 hours. I have never seen so many people with the same condition as me – let alone untreated.

“Operation Smile estimates that there are approximately 2,350 children and adults living with an unrepaired cleft in Malawi and only four surgeons who can perform cleft surgery in the whole country – there are just no words.”

He added: “The tragic truth is that 93 per cent of those born with a cleft condition will die from malnourishment or other associated complications before reaching adulthood.”

One of the most memorable moments from the trip, he recalls, was meeting Akonile, who had been living with the condition for 70 years and was brought to the hospital by her daughter, where Chris showed her a photo of himself as a baby before he had had any operations.

“Her eyes widened in disbelief, with hand gestures to suggest, ‘Who is that?’” Chris said. “I pointed at my lip and said, ‘This was me, and it will be you too’. She looked at me and smiled – she stretched out her hand and placed it in mine. The translator then said, ‘Akonile says thank you – thank you for giving me hope’. It was undoubtedly one of the best and most emotional experiences of my life.”

The London to Brighton Challenge takes place on the May Bank Holiday, May 25 and 26. Anyone who would like to sponsor Chris can visit and read more about the challenge.

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