Mamta Carrol, Regional Director of South Asia Programs talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her.
What first inspired you to work with / support Smile Train?
The transformational nature of what Smile Train does, the scale, intensity and range of its work and the enduring impact it makes in individual lives, the lives of entire families and the attitudes of communities, is unmatched. In the developing world societal prejudices driven by superstitions and entrenched attitudes prevent children with clefts and their families from leading normal lives. My work at Smile Train allows me to make a very tangible and real impact on ground.
How has your involvement with Smile Train made you look at the Power Of A Smile differently?
A smile is instinctive, natural and effortless for almost everyone. Each smile reminds me of the many who have trouble smiling, the magnitude of what we have accomplished and have yet to accomplish. The most fulfilling smile is the smile of our patients after surgery. It radiates the possibilities that our work opens up for these children.
What keeps you involved in Smile Train?
The sheer significance and impact of what Smile Train does makes me feel blessed in contributing – this is a life-changing gift for entire families. It has imbued me with a passion to transform lives. It has gone beyond the definition of a job to become my mission. An article of faith with a higher and more enduring goal in life. Far more enriching than a conventional corporate career and far more satisfying.
Twin brothers Ram Prasad and Ram Pranesh are outstanding “A” students with a shared love for painting and sports. If you look at the picture from their fifth birthday (above), you would never know that the twins had very difficult beginnings and that without help they would be living very different lives.
Their mother and father worked as agricultural laborers in Tamil Nadu, India, and were worried about adequately providing for two more boys. The couple worked very hard but, when both Prasad and Pranesh were born with bilateral cleft lips and palates, the couple knew they couldn’t afford the surgery their boys needed.
Fortunately, it did not take long before their mother, Jayanthi found out about Smile Train. The family went to a screening at their local partner hospital and it was confirmed the boys were both eligible for free cleft lip and palate surgeries. Jayanthi was overjoyed to find out that after their surgeries, the boys would also receive free speech therapy at Sri Ramachandra Hospital (SRMC). Jayanthi was excited the boys would never be taunted for the way they spoke.
Jayanthi said, “The twins are thriving today because of Smile Train and SRMC, without your help the boys would be nowhere.”
Sannidhanandan was born in a rural area of India with a cleft lip and palate. By the early age of six-years-old, Sannidhanandan found his calling and decided he was going to be a famous singer. His teachers and family encouraged him to keep practicing even though his singing voice was nasally due to his unrepaired cleft lip and palate.
In 2001, when he was 21 years old, a friend of his read about cleft surgeries performed by a doctor in Mangalore. Soon after the two traveled to Mangalore and Sannidhanandan was finally able to receive his new smile.
After his surgery, Sannidhanandan became confident enough to sing in public and he began pursuing his dream of being a famous singer. After training in classical music for years he decided to participate in one of India’s most popular singing competitions, “Asianet Idea Star Singer 2007”. With his sheer determination and willpower, Sannidhanandan quickly became a fan favorite and finished in the top 10!
Today Sannidhanandan has achieved his dream and is a very popular singer. He feels that he has been blessed with immense talent and wanted to put his popularity to good use. Recently he visited local Indian Smile Train partner Jubilee Mission Hospital and gave the parents of the cleft children words of encouragement. He shared his story of how he achieved his dreams late in his life after his cleft surgery, and he told them that they should never discourage their children from having big dreams.
Janta, her husband Dayal, and their five daughters Anjali, Poonam, Komal, Ankita, and Namrata.
Janta Kumari Singh and her husband Dayal are the proud parents of five daughters, four of which were born with congenital cleft lip and palate. The family lives in the urban slums of Mumbai, supported by Dayal’s modest wage working as a security guard. By chance, the Singh family heard that another local cleft patient received help at Smile Train partner Godrej Hospital. Once the family talked to staff members at Godrej, the parents were relieved to hear that the surgery would be free and available for all four daughters that needed it.
Older daughters, Anjali and Komal have both received their cleft lip and palate surgery at Godrej Hospital and are currently going through speech therapy there as well. Younger sisters Ankita and Narmata have both had surgeries in September 2014 but the surgeon said, “it has been a challenge to ensure that the girls are fit for surgery they are all anemic and are often prone to infections.”
Now all of the girls go to school and Poonam, the only sibling without a cleft lip and palate, helps them communicate with other children and their teachers. Even though the family has gone through a lot of tough times, they have surrounded themselves with infectious smiles and laughter.
Janta with her daughters Komal (8 years old) and Ankita (6 years old).
Mast & his parents before surgery
When Maya Milind Sonsale gave birth to her son, Mast Sangharsh Milind Sonsale, she was shocked, and immediately saddened to discover that he not only suffered from a cleft lip and palate, but also congenital blindness. When her husband saw Mast for the first time, he was so furious that he stormed off, leaving Mast and Maya at Maya’s parents’ house. Maya was upset, because she knew her husband was not the only person who would have that reaction to Mast. During the first four years of Mast’s life, the people in their community did not accept him because of his cleft. Maya also felt that because of his blindness it was even more difficult for him to form bonds with others, including her.
Maya discovered Smile Train when reading the newspaper and found an advertisement for the organization. She was so relieved to hear that Mast could receive free treatment, because there was no chance she could afford the surgery by herself. It took eight hours by car to get to the hospital, but Maya knew the long trip was more than worth it. Now, after the surgery, Mast’s father has returned to his child and wife. Maya now says that they are a happy family. Now that Mast’s cleft is repaired, and the family is reunited, they can work together to help Mast cope with his blindness.
Mast & his parents after surgery
Dehradun, India – Manoj Sagar, whose daughter, Tezi, was born with cleft lip and palate, shares his story of how he initially reacted to his daughter’s cleft, and how Smile Train was able to help him find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
My wife did not see the child, Tezi, immediately after birth as she was exhausted by labor. I was the first person in the family to see that my child was born with a deformity. I was immediately shocked, overwhelmed, and terrified. My hands and feet trembled and my throat became parched. I felt that God had cursed me by giving me such a monstrous child. I did not know what to do.
I was so overcome with sorrow that even when a local doctor informed me about the Himalayan Institute where Smile Train could fix Tezi’s cleft for free I was still in denial that the cleft could be cured. It wasn’t until I saw the transformation with my own eyes through similar patients who underwent surgery at the Himalayan Institute that I had a slight change of heart.
We are lucky because we live only a few minutes from the hospital, so I was able to take Tezi there without any difficulty. After a quick 45-minute surgery that was free of charge I was completely relieved to see my daughter turn from a monstrous child into an angel. Now that the swelling from the surgery has gone down, no one can say that she has ever had a facial deformity. Thanks to Smile Train my darling girl is free to lead a normal life full of self-esteem.
Patan, India—Sonakshi Arvind Kamble is a one-year-old girl from India who was born with a cleft lip. When Sonakshi was born her father, Arvind, was terrified. He said, “I was scared and had never seen this deformity so I was reluctant to hold the child.”
The neighbors told him Sonakshi would never be normal.
While Sonakshi’s parents took her to a local hospital for help. For six months Arvind and his daughter would make the trip to the hospital, but they were never told that cleft was treatable. On one of their trips to the hospital, the taxi driver who was taking them knew of Smile Train and told him that his daughter’s smile could be fixed. But Sonashi’s father, a driver himself, only earns 9,000 Rupees per month, about $150. He was nervous that he would not be able to afford the treatment. After an hour-long journey to Smile Train partner Godrej Memorial Hospital, Sonakshi and her family arrived at the hospital to good news—Smile Train could cover the costs of her surgery for free.
Now Sonakshi, her father, and the entire family are very happy. Her father reports that their neighbors have been treating them much better now that Sonakshi’s cleft has been repaired. Besides commenting on how beautiful is daughter is, Arvind noted that he wants her to become a doctor so she can provide for herself and help others.