portrayed a white man's lopsided view of
the 'real' India --which humiliated
several Indians in its wake-- smile pinki
is a touching, real life, '
darkness- to- light' depiction - an experience that can be quite humbling.
The documentary 'Smile Pinki'
, is an
enchanting modern day fairy tale about Pinki Kumari, a poor little Indian
village girl, who was born with a cleft
lip and palate and whose life was
magically transformed after a simple surgery, made possible by the world's
leading cleft charity ' Smile Train'
The vibrant style of this film's narration captures
the true-life tale of its
protagonist's liberation from stigma and shame. Directed by American
film maker Megan Mylan, this film won
the Oscar for the Best Short Documentary at the 81st
Academy Awards .The documentary, made in Hindi and Bhojpuri, is 39 -minutes
long and was shot in the villages of Uttar Pradesh and Varanasi in Northern
attempts to throw light on the global problem of cleft lip and
palate and also acclaims the work of the plastic surgeon Subodh Kumar Singh. By
providing free surgeries, Dr.Singh has been
bringing smiles on the faces of poor children with cleft lip and palate.
is the moving story of
a 5-yr old Pinki Sonkar, who was born
to impoverished parents in Rampur Dabai of the Mirzapur District in Uttar Pradesh. To add to her misery she
was born with a cleft lip and a cleft palate.
Pinky had the misfortune of
being born poor in one of the most backward areas of rural India. She also had
to live with the burden of being born a
girl, with an embarrassing physical deformity, in a region where a girl child
was not as welcome as she should be. It came as no surprise that she was denied
school, shunned and was even
Pinki's family hardly realized that all that she required was one
simple surgery for her to become a
'normal' little girl and even if they did, they could hardly afford it. One day
they chanced upon Pankaj, a social worker who traveled between villages
gathering patients to avail of the free surgery being provided at the hospital
in Varanasi thanks to Smile Train
, an international charitable
organization that focused in helping people with cleft lip and palate.
Pinki's unilateral complete cleft was
operated upon by plastic surgeon Dr Subodh Kumar Singh
and her life was transformed for ever. Dr.Singh says, "Earlier she was
very depressed, she wasn't like a child at all. Now she is like any other
The doctor along
with Pinki and her father Rajendar attended the Oscar ceremony.They also visited
Smile Train's Head quarters at New York.
The Smile Train
, is the world's leading charitable organization dedicated to
helping people with cleft lip and palate. Its goal is to ensure safe and
quality treatment to the millions who
can ill- afford it. The charity also aims to continue providing these treatments
across India until the problem is completely wiped out.
On March 17, The Smile Train is all set to
celebrate its tenth anniversary. It has carried the
torch in 76 poor countries for over ten years, and has funded nearly 500,000
cleft operations. Hundreds of thousands of children with cleft lip and palate have benefited from the patronge of The Smile Train.
The organization has achieved these wonders
with the selfless dedication of 2,238 doctors and nurses, 1,037 participating
hospitals and 1,345,567 magnanimous
It has empowered local
doctors and other health care personnels and has actively participated in
weaving a strong network of medical
skill all over the world.
The GS Memorial
Hospital, an associate of Smile Train, specialises
in reconstruction of cleft lips and
palates through surgery. As an epicentre of smiles, it is open on all days of
the week, and has carried out approx. 14,000 surgeries ( largest number for a
single hospital in Asia).
The Oscar award is bound to provide the Smile
with a much-deserved booster and showcase its valuable cause
internationally. Brian Mullaney, Co-Founder of The Smile Train, said "Pinki
would not only be the youngest person to ever win an Oscar but also be a
shining symbol of hope and inspiration for millions of children who are
suffering with clefts".
What is Cleft Lip?
Cleft lip (cheiloschisis) and cleft palate (palatoschisis) are
variations of a kind of clefting congenital deformity caused by an abnormal facial development during embryonic development.Both these conditions
tend to occur together. In the case of cleft palate , the two plates of the
skull that make up the roof of the mouth (palate) are not completely joined.Both cleft lip and palate can be
successfully repaired immediately after birth.
The frequency of occurrence of this condition at birth is 1 in 600-800
births.Its prevalence is highest among
Native Americans and Asians. The lowest prevalence rates are recorded
among the Africans.
Cleft Lip /Palate-Causes
exact cause of cleft lip and palate is,by and large, unknown although a
combination of genetic factors and environmental factors (such as viruses and
chemicals) are implicated. Sometimes it occurs as a secondary condition to
another medical problem.
probability of a child being born with these conditions is greater if a sibling, parent, or a close relative has had the condition.
medications taken by the mother during
pregnancy are also believed to
cause cleft lip/palate.Some of them include acne medications containing
accutane, anti-seizure/anticonvulsant drugs and methotrexate, a common drug
used in the treatment of cancer, psoriasis and arthritis.
Cleft Lip / Palate- Effects
Some of the problems that arise from cleft lip/palate are associated with feeding, ear infections,
speech and socialization.
• An infant with a cleft lip/ palate
lacks suction and this brings about difficulties during feeding
• The affected also suffer
from middle ear infections which, if uncared for, can eventually lead to
complete loss of hearing .
• Individuals with cleft lip/ palate suffer from speech impairment
and require the help of a speech therapist
• Bonding with a baby born with cleft lip
or palate can be difficult
• A cleft palate/lip will lend an unusual appearance and speech to the affected
individual whose low self esteem, combined with society's deprecating
reactions, may heavily impact behavior,
confidence and socializing skills
Cleft Lip/Palate Facts
• According to Smile Train statistics, greater than 4.7 million children
belonging to developing countries live
with unrepaired clefts in their upper lip/palate, a condition that is completely treatable
• In India 35,000 children are born each year with a cleft in their upper lip /palate ; more than half of these children do not get treatment simply because they are too poor
• Each of these affected children could be brought back to normal life, Pinki -style, with a simple 45 minutes surgery that would cost as little as Rs. 8000 ( approx. $250).
• Children with these deformities are isolated and traumatized. Many of them
do not attend schools;some of them are even killed at birth or , even worse,
• As adults they fail to get regular jobs and are not in demand in the marriage market
• Since 2000, Smile Train has funded more than one lakh fifty thousand free, but safe, surgeries
• However, there are still about 10 lakh untreated cases in India alone
Let the Children Smile
The website for The Smile
Train observes that "There are many other
Pinkis in the world who still need help. Millions of poor children with
unrepaired clefts who are waiting and wondering if anyone will ever come along
and help them. For the vast majority of them, Smile Train is their only hope".
the rest of us it is important to be sensitive to individuals, especially
children, with deformities. Let us help, in our own way, to put a smile on
these children's faces - if we cannot
help them let us make sure we do not hurt!
Today, Eight-year-old Pinki, goes to school. She has more reasons to smile about as a Medical and Management institute at Indore has offered her a full scholarship if she desires to study at the institute in the future!
Dr Reeja Tharu/S