Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
- Around the world in 80 (or so) days - May 15, 2022
- Cannes on steroids and gobsmacked in an airport wonderland - May 11, 2022
- A sneak preview of a new wonder of the world - May 10, 2022
[Photo: Times of India]
Anyone watching the men’s final at the Wimbledon Championship on Sunday would have witnessed a magnificent victory by home town favourite Andy Murray over the great Serbian Novak Djokovic.
Just moments before the match commenced, a very different sort of victory was witnessed by the millions of viewers tuned in all over the world. A victory over adversity. A victory over poverty. A victory over social rejection and a medical condition that blights the lives of millions of children around the world.
That victory came in the form of a smile. A smile of a little girl called Pinki Sontar.
I’ve talked about Pinki before in this Blog (click here and here to read). That’s because the pretty young girl who tossed the coin at the start of the match to decide which tennis ace would serve first, didn’t always look like she does today.
Pinki was born with a severe unilateral cleft lip that ran right up to her nose. For six years she lived with the heart-breaking stigma that goes with the condition.
Her mother revealed in a CNN documentary that people used to tease the young girl remorselessly, calling her hothkati – ‘the girl with the torn lip’.
Her father, Rajendar, recollected: “I used to think that she would be better off dead. I used to wonder who would marry her. Where would I find the money to pay for her dowry? At school everyone teased her. At home, family and friends talked about her as if she was a freak.”
Pinki recalled every moment of that anguish, that freak show. “Everyone called me hothkati. I would feel very bad. I would feel hurt and get very angry. Sometimes I would abuse them. Now no one calls me a hothkati. They all call me Pinki now.”
The reason she began to be called by her right name was an organisation called The Smile Train, well-known to readers of this Blog as the world’s largest cleft charity. At the age of six this young girl from a tiny, impoverished rural village in India received a straightforward surgery funded by The Smile Train that would transform her face and her life.
Her story was told by American film-maker Megan Mylan in the documentary ‘Smile Pinki’ that went on to win the Oscar for Best Short Documentary in 2009. You can watch the trailer of it by clicking on this link.
Last Friday I had the pleasure of meeting The Smile Train’s new CEO, Susannah Schaefer, who has been on the charity’s board since 2003. She told me of the organisation’s current priorities, which include efforts to wipe out EVERY cleft in Rwanda, The Smile Train’s first real foray into Africa, which has a disproportionately high number of cleft births. Many of these cases are left untreated all their lives. That’s a shocking indictment of the world’s priorities when the surgery takes just 45 minutes and costs around US$250.
I vowed to Susannah that we would redouble our efforts to support The Smile Train (we already give a percentage of advertising sales from The Moodie Report China to The Smile Train China). As readers will know, the travel retail industry has already taken the charity to its collective heart, raising millions of dollars over the past decade.
If you need any convincing about The Smile Train’s work, take a look at the image of Pinki before her surgery and contrast it with the joyous young lass standing on centre court alongside two of her sporting heroes in front of an audience of millions. On a day that saw an epic sporting contest, Pinki was the biggest winner of all.