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Heartwarming news reaches us from Beijing where cleft charity The Smile Train (www.SmileTrain.org) this week called a press conference to announce that it has now funded and performed 250,000 free cleft repair surgeries in China.
The conference was attended by over 50 media agencies, while three live surgeries were broadcast to show the nature and importance of the work.
“I will sleep sound tonight,” were the simple, satisfied words in a message to me from Dr Shell Xue (below), the inspirational figure who leads The Smile Train China.
The Smile Train is well-known to the travel retail industry and vice-versa. Our sector has been a major source of funding for the charity since 2007. In 2007 The Moodie Report and Hugo Boss held a major fund-raising dinner in Hong Kong, raising US$350,000, led by Shell Xue and featuring an unforgettably moving speech by Wang Li (below), who had been the first cleft child ever to have been operated on through The Smile Train.
Both 2008 and 2009 saw industry runners participating in a ‘Miles for Smiles’ 10k charity run in Dubai. At the 2009 event Dubai Duty Free memorably donated US$1.5 million to assist The Smile Train’s work in the Philippines. The funding was used to recruit additional staff, purchase vehicles and equipment, and to perform 3,800 cleft surgeries.
The Patrón Spirits Company was another notable supporter, with Chief Operating Officer John McDonnell (below) driving hundreds of thousands of Dollars of donations at various events, including the company’s own golf tournament in Florida.
The Beijing event this week coincided with the 250,000th cleft operation, conducted at the nearby China Meitan General Hospital in Beijing
Upholding the notion of ‘teaching a man to fish’, The Smile Train doesn’t send medical teams from other countries to operate in the developing world; instead, it provides the local doctors in these countries with free training to enable them to perform free, high-quality surgeries. Largely as a result of the charity’s philosophy, countries such as India and China have become epi-centres of excellence in cleft surgery.
As our industry benefits worldwide from booming Chinese spending in travel retail, it’s worth remembering these sobering statistics – there are 20,000 to 30,000 newborn babies with cleft lips and/or palates born every year in China. Children with this birth defect cannot eat or speak properly, and cannot attend school or, ultimately, hold a job. Their lives are filled with shame, pain and hardship. The Smile Train brings not only a new smile but a new life.
Currently, Smile Train is active in 84 countries around the globe. It has been responsible for a remarkable 700,000 free cleft repair surgeries. At this week’s press conference, China Charity Federation Chairman Fan Baojun said “The Smile Train is one of the most influential charity projects in China.”
For all concerned, patients, families, funders, and the travel retail community, that’s 700,000 causes to smile.