In October 2018, the Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards, which celebrates the achievements of truly remarkable people who make our world a better place, announced Nathan Abbott (21) from Littlehampton in West Sussex, as Regional Fundraiser of the Year for the West of ITV Meridian.
Nathan was recognised for his determination to support the cleft community, as well as his ongoing fundraising work for the global children’s charity Smile Train – which provides free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children in 85+ developing countries.
Nathan’s support for the cleft community stemmed from his own personal experience of being born with a severe bilateral cleft lip and palate. Growing up, he required numerous surgeries - and was bullied for the way he looked and spoke. Nathan was able to overcome these challenges and channel his experiences in a wholly positive way – now dedicating much of his free time to fundraising for Smile Train, so that children with untreated clefts all across the developing world can be given the power of a smile, just like him.
Nathan says: “Although I had always been bullied due to my appearance, the experience became more intense when I transitioned from primary to secondary school.
“During the summer holidays, I felt optimistic about making a fresh start. A new school provided the chance for me to make new friends, and be accepted for who I am, not what I looked like. My school had over a thousand pupils. Walking through the corridors was very intimidating as people would give me funny looks, mimic me, and call me names.
“Over time the bullying became worse, and it became physical. I remember one day I was hit over the head with a bag containing studded football boots.
“I would get home at the end of the day and take out my frustrations around the house, punching holes in walls and breaking down with overwhelming panic attacks. I would look at myself in the mirror and question why I had been born this way. Why did I have to look different? I was oblivious that there were many other children around the world, just like me.
“At the end of year eight, I decided to drop out of school in favour of home tuition - to escape the constant judgment. However, during this time I started to feel very determined that I would not allow bullies to ruin my future. Armed with this attitude, I decided to re-join mainstream education at the end of year nine, attending the St Philip Howard Catholic High School.
“It was at this point that my life completely changed. Not only was I welcomed into their community, but I also came across Smile Train - an international charity which provides free cleft care for children, just like me, around the world.
“I became aware that millions of children across the globe are born with clefts - including those born in less developed regions who don’t have access to the medical care we take for granted in the UK. It’s difficult to comprehend how a child with an untreated cleft can cope knowing that they may never have cleft repair surgery.
I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. With this in mind, I decided that I wanted to do something to help the lives of children in the developing world with clefts. At the age of sixteen, I created Freestyle 4 Smiles – a non-profit fundraising movement to raise funds and awareness for Smile Train through personal challenges and more recently, group events.”
“Through changing the lives of children and adults around the world, I have learned to accept myself for the person I am and say goodbye to the negativity that controlled my life.”
Smile Train provides free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children in developing countries. Through training local doctors and empowering partner hospitals around the world, we advance a sustainable solution and scalable model to treat clefts, drastically improving children’s lives, including their ability to eat, breathe, and speak over time.
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