Born in China with a cleft lip, orphaned, then living in foster homes until she was seven, Ashleigh wished her life might be different. She constantly sought approval from others and got in with the wrong crowd. Deep inside, she knew something had to change. But how?
Be inspired by Ashleigh’s story as she shares how she overcame her insecurities and turned her difference into her power …
I stared into the mirror, obsessed over the face glaring back at me. Index finger to nose, I pressed in my nostril. “Everything would be better if both my nostrils were the same size," I whispered to myself. “And if I didn’t have this scar, maybe people would like me more.”
I let out a heavy sigh as I turned from my reflection to look out the window. Dark clouds hung low, and rain teemed down. How I wished my life might be different. Going to school every day caused tightness in my chest. I’d have to face that boy who stood over me in gym class. I can still feel his breath from the time he leaned into my face. “Hey girl! What happened to your nose? What’s with your scar?” he taunted, poking into his own lip.
It wasn’t just his taunts I faced. I feared most days - the questionings, looks of disgust, and eye-rolls as I tried my best to boldly explain what it meant to be born cleft-affected.
I feared most days - the questionings, looks of disgust, and eye-rolls ...
I was born in China on October 6, 2002, with a cleft lip and orphaned at birth. I was then adopted into the United States, where I would receive medical attention. I was tube fed as a baby because of not being able to eat normally. Then my first adoptive family was declared unfit. That’s when I entered multiple foster homes up until age seven.
At seven years old, I was adopted by my forever family. But moving from one foster home to the next had already taken its toll on me, and I’d fallen behind in my school work. That, along with the insecurities about my appearance, left me with zero confidence. I constantly sought approval from others, and I got in with the wrong crowd.
Deep inside, I knew I was taking the wrong path. I wanted something different. I wanted to leave my fears behind and be free to be me without the need to please and fit in. As I looked out the window, I imagined the dark clouds lifting, me rising out of the rain into a light-filled rainbow. In my dreams, I was as free as the wind passing through leaves. Free as a bird spreading her wings. The bird was so beautiful with silver feathers; she soared higher than she ever imagined. I knew if I wanted my dream to come true, something had to shift. I had to change the direction of my life.
Thankfully, in middle school, my life took a turn.
I started to hang out with uplifting friends - people who accepted me without judgment. They taught me how to self-love. My sixth-grade social-studies teacher had a passionate way of teaching history, and I’d often stay after class to discuss global issues on a deeper scale. She inspired me to be the change I wanted to see in the world.
One day, I delivered a speech in front of my class about the significance of the “Treaty Of Versailles.” After my speech, the teacher called to me, “Ashleigh, I’d like to speak with you a moment please.” My legs shook like trees in a storm. Why was I being pulled out of class? What had I done?
Once we stepped outside the classroom, she asked me, “Ashleigh, how is it that you are so good at public speaking?” She continued, “What do you want to be in the future?”
My heart fell into my shoes. I didn’t know who, exactly, I wanted to be.
“Well,” I said, taking a moment to think. “I have a keen interest in social issues. I can see myself in government, some kind of leadership role … yes … that’s the only way to make change. And I love speaking in front of crowds. I feel the power to motivate an audience to take action, to make the world a better place.”
My teacher nodded approvingly. “Ashleigh, I’d like to suggest you consider a career in politics.” My eyes lit up. I rushed home and began my research. I had never felt more enlightened. I remembered the Holocaust survivor I’d met in fifth grade. How deep inside me, a seed had been planted – a desire to see every person free regardless of gender, race, or religion. That seed was ready to grow.
... deep inside me, a seed had been planted – a desire to see every person free regardless of gender, race or religion...
The next day I made a promise to my social studies teacher. I would become a leader who would protect human rights and make sure another genocide wouldn’t ever happen.
The decision I made that day shifted everything for me, and since then, I have continued to pursue my dreams with passion. Being born with a cleft lip gave me experiences that have become my motivation to empower others. I know the importance of embracing being different, whether it be a cleft lip, cleft palate, or another severe condition.
I want to show others how our difference is our power. It takes courage to stand out and overcome the challenges that come along with being different … this is part of my story. It’s what makes me stronger and more empathetic to the needs of others.
Now, I’m eighteen years old. I’m chasing my dream of inspiring others to use their uniqueness as an asset. I will continue to spread awareness, advocating, and working to make the world a better place.
And now, instead of looking in the mirror and wishing I was born different, I see myself as the mirror … the mirror for others to see themselves flying free; the mirror for those who feel different to see what they are capable of if they put their minds to it.
Meet Ashleigh Ewald ...
Ashleigh Ewald is an 18-year-old activist with a talent for public speaking. She shares her story about overcoming obstacles as a way to empower others to follow their dreams regardless of the challenges one will face.
Ashleigh aspires to become a U.S. Senator and motivational speaker. Her mission in life is to protect human rights and improve lives through being the change in Washington D.C.
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