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Just how life changing will this Vodacom Super Rugby season be?

In a town of over 60 000 people, she was the first. But it was nothing to smile about. Not when your mother endures whispers of witchcraft. Not when they have names for you that bring your mother to tears. Not when the one thing all children can do before they can even walk or talk is taken away from you.

Tshakholo Sekotoana was born with a unilateral cleft lip. “I was the first person in my town of Mafeteng (in Lesotho) to be born like this,” she says. “It made life very difficult for my mom.”

Statistics will tell you that one in 750 South African children are born with a facial condition. But that statistic won’t tell you that they are also born into a world of hurt and prejudice. A world that looks away because they cannot smile. Or eat properly. Or even breathe. In fact, by the age of six Wyatt Driscoll will have had three operations to repair a bilateral cleft lip and palate that makes something as simple as drinking a glass of milk almost impossible for him.

It’s a world that seems so far removed from what takes place between four white chalk lines on any given Friday or Saturday on rugby fields in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. How could Tshakholo and the dusty town of Mafeteng ever be connected with a rain-drenched rugby field in Christchurch? On this occasion it was, through the two tries scored by the Vodacom Bulls in their clash with the Crusaders, because in that moment, a team of South African rugby players proved that what happens inside those four white chalk lines can change the life of someone outside of them.

Through the Vodacom Tries for Smiles campaign, the Vodacom Foundation donates R3 000 for every try scored by a South African team in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby competition to the Smile Foundation. The funds raised through Tries for Smiles helps the Smile Foundation to perform corrective surgery on children born with facial disorders.

On 18 April, the Vodacom Bulls players saw first-hand in a visit to the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg just how life-changing a game of rugby can be when they met with children who have benefitted from corrective surgery and those who are about to undergo surgery thanks to the funds raised.

Children such as Tshakholo, who because of a try scored somewhere in the world of Vodacom Super Rugby, are able to climb into a taxi with their mother and begin a life-changing journey. “Now I look beautiful. My mom cried so much after the operation. Now I can eat my favourite porridge, without making a mess” Tshakholo says of her surgery.

In a town of over 60 000 people, Tshakholo Sekotoana will be the first. The first child who went away and came back with a smile.

And because of her and so many others, the 2018 Vodacom Super Rugby season will indeed have been life changing.

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