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Changing the world, one smile at a time

03 November 2023

For many of us, achieving something we’ve been told we can’t do is satisfaction enough. Kenny Ardouin was inspired to build a career around it.


UC Lecturer and PhD student Kenny Ardouin presenting at the 2022 International Congress in Edinburgh.


Born with cleft lip and palate Ardouin was only twelve when a health professional told him: “You’ll be able to speak, but you’ll never make a career out of public speaking.”

“That was really hard to hear, and it stuck with me,” he says. “It was the first time I recall being told I wouldn’t be able to do something because of my cleft and it didn’t sit comfortably with me. I was pretty determined.”

SDG 3 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 - Good health and wellbeing

Following speech language therapy, and several years working as a speech language therapist himself, Ardouin is now a Lecturer in and PhD candidate for Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC)’s School of Psychology, Speech and Hearing.

This week, he returned to Ōtautahi Christchurch from the 2023 Australasian Cleft Lip and Palate Association (ACLAPA) Conference in Melbourne, where he presented as part of UC’s Cleft Research team.

The team, led by Senior Lecturer Above the Bar Dr Phoebe Macrae (Ngāti Raukawa me Ngāti Tuwharetoa), enjoys research partnerships with respected institutions including the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, Oxford University and more. 

Their work is so globally recognised that Ardouin has been invited to be a member of the Scientific Committee for the International Appearance Matters 10 Conference in Bristol next year. He will be representing UC as the only Scientific Committee member from Aotearoa New Zealand, and one of only two members from outside Europe and the USA.  

“Although I still get butterflies in my stomach before giving a presentation, I have come to relish public speaking opportunities. It is a privilege to have a platform to share my work, thoughts and feelings, and I am heartened by the conversations that have arisen from my talks,” he says. 

“Just this week, several delegates at the ACLAPA Conference thanked me for my contribution and described my presentations as ‘powerful’ – I think 12-year-old me would be pretty proud of that.”

Right now, the UC team are embarking on a study exploring the effects of cleft on whānau Māori, who have the highest incidence of any ethnicity in the world [1 in 460 vs global average of 1 in 700].

The research will examine cleft support services in Aotearoa New Zealand and how we can best cater to a broad range of needs across the many whānau affected, Dr Macrae explains. 

“We’re hoping to engage with whānau Māori who have experience with cleft to better understand the impact experienced, and to start to explore how we can utilize cleft services to address this impact.”

The study will enable the team to also determine if the emotional wellbeing impacts of cleft are being addressed, as the traditional focus of systems tends to be on the physical, Ardouin says. 

“We are obligated to everyone affected by cleft in Aotearoa to continually evaluate and evolve our services to ensure they’re accessible and welcoming.

“As someone who is not Māori, it is not my place to make judgements or decisions on what works best. That is where having kaupapa Māori researchers available to do that mahi, in consultation with the community, is invaluable.” 

Proud to be an academic working and living with cleft, Ardouin is passionate about raising awareness. His PhD thesis will focus on the design, delivery and evaluation of new services, with a view to improving quality of life for people born with cleft. 

“This has been inspired not only by my personal experiences, but also by the incredible people I’ve met over the years who have so kindly and openly shared their stories – I owe it to them to carry that forward and strive for meaningful change. My PhD study provides an excellent avenue for this.”

This week is Cleft Awareness week (30 October – 5 November) and UC are proud to regularly engage in Aotearoa’s cleft community, which includes supporting the upcoming Cleft Lip and Palate Youth Camp.

“The camp is an excellent opportunity for people aged 10-18 to come together for three days of fun and shared experiences. The cleft journey can be tough at times, but it becomes a lot easier when you realise you don’t have to go it alone.” 

The University of Canterbury Cleft Research team would like to connect with young people and adults affected by cleft, their whānau, and health professionals working with cleft across Aotearoa New Zealand. For more, contact Kenny Ardouin:

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