PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa
—Leila* never had a haircut until a few weeks ago.
The 13-year-old girl was born with a tumor on the left side of her head, which discouraged her from ever going to the salon.
That wasn’t the only hardship Leila faced. When she was just a toddler, Leila’s mother died. She was then forced to live with her blind grandfather, who left her home alone much of the time. Authorities were notified that she was being neglected, after which they referred her to the SOS Village in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Leila has lived with her SOS Mother Ntombomsi at the SOS Village since she was 5 years old. But just recently, she decided to have surgery to remove the tumor on her head. After a couple weeks in the hospital, Leila emerged a new girl.
“I was not happy. All I wanted was to be happy, like other children,” Leila said about how she felt before the surgery.
She added that she would always wear a beanie on her head to cover the bump.
After the surgery, she has a new disposition: “I am back! I am fine. I am happy.” Now she proudly showcases her curly hair—sans beanie.
Leila would always wear a beanie on her head to cover the bump.
Mandy Daniels, a program coordinator at SOS Port Elizabeth and a former social worker, has developed a strong bond with Leila. She even surrendered to Leila her library card so that Leila could take out an extra 10 books per month to read from the library at the SOS Village.
“I am not sure how long we can continue to do this,” Mandy said, jokingly. “I think the day is near when Leila will have read every single book in our local library.”
Leila admitted that she had never really thought about what she wanted to be when she grows up. Now with a more optimistic attitude, she has aspirations to be a nurse—one with great hair, she added.
Name changed to protect the child's privacy.
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