Rahul Kumar/ OneWorld South Asia The Smile Train, a distinct global charity, aims to remove the cleft that comes in the way of a smile. Its mandate is to treat cleft lips and cleft palates to help people live a fuller life—one of dignity and happiness. Rahul Kumar speaks to Satish Kalra, Regional Director, The Smile Train, South Asia.OWSA:How did you choose this particular intervention? Kalra: There are good reasons for that. Most of us came from business backgrounds and business people are focused on returns on investment (ROI). We have spent the whole of our working life explaining to shareholders that you will get a good return on investment. We had long business careers before we got into this and we could not find anything else which could give so much benefit for such a small investment. With just $250, to change the life of a child and change the life of a family, you make such a dramatic impact. The second reason was that any birth-defect is a tragedy. Ask a family where a child is born with the Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or anything like this. Unfortunately, medical science doesn’t have answer to these birth-defects. These are huge tragedies but medical science can do nothing. Now, here’s a birth-defect that can be completely corrected and yet isn’t corrected because people don’t have the money. It is a correctable birth-defect and yet it’s not corrected. So, we thought that this is something that deserves our attention. The third reason was that most of the governments do not even regard cleft as a disability. A lot of people will tell you that it is a cosmetic problem; a lot of doctors consider it a waste of time. They say that no child ever dies because of cleft, which is true. No child ever died of cleft but if you see the world through the eyes of a cleft child, then such a child dies 100 deaths a day. Therefore, we chose something which was life-changing and which could make impact with a small investment and something which in other people’s eyes was not even a problem. OWSA: You want to say that there is social and psychological impact due to the surgery? Kalra: Yes, a child born like this grows where everybody looks at him with pity. Suddenly, he gets a surgery and becomes normal. There is a tremendous impact. Look at it from a mother’s point of view. A lot of these mothers are children themselves. They are just 18 or 19 years old when they get married and a year later they have a child. Now when a child with cleft is put into the arms of a mother, imagine, how would she react? The mother starts screaming. Why me? What went wrong? In our society, the mother-in-law blames the daughter-in-law. They will say that my son is perfectly alright, it’s you who is cursed and who has brought the bad luck here.
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