Globally, around one in 700 children – approximately one child every three minutes – is born with a cleft palate, lip, or both. For children born with such condition, receiving the support to smile can make a world of difference.

Cleft lip and palate can be corrected through surgery and supported by other treatment, but for some families, such treatment is too expensive and takes too long. In Malaysia and Vietnam, ExxonMobil is helping to provide support for children born with these cleft conditions.

For over 20 years, Zainal Azhar Ahmad has dedicated himself to helping these children. Zainal, who spent more than three decades working for ExxonMobil in Malaysia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, has been motivated to change the perception of cleft in Malaysia and provide support for families experiencing children born with the condition. ExxonMobil is supportive of his volunteer work, enabling him to pursue his passion which is aligned with the company’s support for education, health and socio-economic initiatives in the local community.

When babies are born with clefts, Zainal and his team visit the family to provide counselling, information on caring for cleft babies, feeding techniques and feeding aids.

Zainal supports children and their families through a charity organization, the Cleft Lip & Palate Association of Malaysia (CLAPAM), the country’s only nationwide body on cleft issues. Zainal, who is chairman of CLAPAM, has been a key driver in the organisation: working to expand knowledge of and offer improved medical support for cleft conditions.

Today, CLAPAM annually attends to around 30 antenatal and 300 post-delivery cases, provides 800-1,000 feeding aids, sponsors 60-90 cleft surgeries, responds to 400-500 cleft-related queries and carries out up to three cleft campaigns. The organization also broadly supports hospitals and clinics under Malaysia’s Ministry of Health.

Zainal also helped change the very language Malaysians use for cleft, successfully advocating for new and more neutral terminology, which has been officially adopted by the government authority on the Malay language.

Since 2021, October is recognized as Cleft Awareness Month in Malaysia, thanks to Zainal.

Earlier this year, Zainal was recognised for his decades of work, when he was presented with the Unsung Hero award at the Malaysia Upstream Awards 2023, hosted by national oil company, PETRONAS. The award recognized the major impact Zainal’s contributions have had on transforming the lives of children with cleft conditions.

ExxonMobil is also playing a role in supporting children in Vietnam with cleft conditions. We’re working with Operation Smile Vietnam, a children’s charity that carries out cleft lip and palate surgery, helping the organization provide free reconstructive surgery for Vietnamese children with cleft conditions.

Since 2015, ExxonMobil has donated to the charity, funding screenings and operations for over 1,000 children born with facial deformities. We have also helped provide dental care and education for 10,000 children from the country’s Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, and northern provinces.

Last year marked the eighth consecutive year that ExxonMobil Vietnam received the Corporate Social Responsibility Recognition Award from the American Chamber of Commerce in Hà Nội, in recognition of its work.


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