Nathan Abbott was bullied at school every day when he was growing up in Littlehampton but the experience has given him the determination to support the cleft community, resulting in a Pride of Britain Awards nomination.
Now aged 21, Nathan has spent years raising money for global children’s charity Smile Train, which provides free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children in developing countries.
He has been named as Regional Fundraiser of the Year for the west of ITV Meridian and will now attend the national awards ceremony, which will be broadcast on ITV on November 6 at 8pm.
Nathan said: “I can’t begin to tell everyone how surreal this feels. When I first found out I was shortlisted and nominated for this award, I was completely blown away. To be chosen amongst thousands of inspirational people is something I’m still trying to get my head around.
“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.”
Nathan was born with a severe bilateral cleft lip and palate, and was bullied for the way he looked, spoke and ate while growing up. He has had surgery numerous times
He said: “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 16, 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.”
It was his involvement with Smile Train that really changed Nathan’s life, after years of torment, starting as a young boy.
Nathan explained: “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 1,000 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 judgement. 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 rejoin 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.”
Nathan has been able to channel his experiences in a wholly positive way, dedicating much of his free time to fundraising for Smile Train, so children with untreated clefts all across the developing world can be given the power of a smile, just like him.