They know the value of a smile …

They know the value of a smile …
Putting back smiles on kids’ faces: a before and after photo

Every child has the right to smile and a kid’s smile can melt the most stone- heart person.  We celebrate birth of a child and see it as a source of fortune to the family. But if the child is born with a facial blemish, we are confused, angry, and don’t want to look on that poor child.

A Cleft lip or palate is an orofacial malformation that 27,000 to 33,000 children born with every year in India. But this condition doesn’t remain physical deformity only but adds to social maladjustment of the child.

Anandi Mahto, a resident of Tehra Village in Bihar, is a father of one daughter and two sons. However the three year old girl is completely healthy but the two sons are cleft patients. The 1 and half year old son and the youngest son who is of 10 months were born with cleft lip and cleft palate problem.  The children were already facing the consequences due to tabsence of lip and palate tissue but the father Anandi Mahto fearing of losing respect in his village, abandoned his wife and children.

The superstition in his village is that the sons who are suffering cleft are not his, but someone else’s as his wife must have been engaged in an extra marital affair with the anonymous person.

Later Anandi’s wife with his brother came into contact with Smile Train, an international NGO that operates on cleft lip patients who can’t afford the cost of surgery. Thus both the children were operated on successfully and free of cost in Rabia Basri Hospital, a partner hospital of Smile Train. Anandi did not know of the operation of his children till last week of July, when the pharmacist Mohammad Abul Kalam and the receptionist Durgesh Nandini contacted Anandi Mahto and asked him to come over and take his family back to his home. Finally Anandi showed up and the Smile Train staffs helped him change his mind for good. And now the family of five is living together.

The pharmacist Mohammad Abul Kalam said, “out of 100 patients we treat, 40 patients are abandoned by their husbands because of orthodox mentality about this problem”.

What is Smile Train?

Smile Train is an US based charity organization, operating in 86 countries, which has realized the need of treatment for cleft lip and palate patients and awareness about the problem and its causes. Their unique and effective initiative was recognized and ‘The New York Times’ reported it as “one of the most productive charity”. 

When a patient comes under Smile Train’s knowledge his/her treatment needs zero penny from their pocket. Smile Train bears the cost of stay, food, to and fro travelling cost from home and the operation.  Not does it only treat but also contribute a lot to social welfare by educating people about the stigma related to it.

Across the world Smile Train has partnered with 160+ hospitals and over 500 doctors. Of these, some 300 doctors in over 10 towns of India partner with the organisation. In India they have completed about 5 lakhs of free of cost cleft treatment. In Bihar they have completed 20,000 operations in partnership with Kurji Holy Family Hospital, Patna, Rabia Basri Hospital, Patna and Prashant Memorial Hospital, Muzaffarpur.

 In Anandi’s case it is saddening that newborn children face stigma because of lack of education in the society.. Cleft patients face a lot of problems like cosmetic deformity, eating difficulty, speech problem, hearing problems and otitis media (Otitis media is inflammation located in the middle ear occur as a result of respiratory infection) , dental abnormalities, recurrent upper respiratory tract injection and psychological maladjustment. As if this is no less, the patients are abandoned by their own family. The condition worsens when the patient is a girl as the parents start worrying about her marriage.

 Project Direct Smile Train, Prashant Memorial Hospital; Dr. Anjani Kumar Jha shared his experience about a 5 year old cleft patient. He said, “a 5 year old girl, Bhibha Kumari of Tariyani, Seohar was abandoned by both of her parents due to her facial deformity. . After she was treated, her family was approached and they accepted her.”

Cleft can not be only due to genetic inheritance but family predisposition, poor nutritional status of mother, smoking or use of alcohol by mother during pregnancy and viral infections during early pregnancy adds to the causes of inadequate lip and palate tissue in the womb. Thus the lip and palate are not fully formed due to scarce tissue. But due to unawareness added to long prevailing orthodox mentality the mother and the child has to bear the brunt. It is quite common that the family curses the mother that it was the result of her past sins.

Thankfully we have already realized that the key solution to every problem can be achieved through education. Thus for the negation of stigma attached to this abnormality and the increasing number of abandoned mother and child, Smile Train runs an awareness program “Smile Torch”.

Tanya Trivedi

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