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Remember Anji? The little boy whom I introduced via this very blog back in July 2007?
I do. He was one of the first children I ever met who was suffering from a cleft lip and palate.
I was introduced to Anji at the cleft unit in Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India, which is largely funded by cleft charity The Smile Train.
He had eyes as deep as the Indian sub-continent and a smile as wide as Hyderabad – especially when I suggested he would one day play cricket for India. Maybe now he will.
He was due to be operated on the day after my visit but alas the medical team discovered Anji had a heart condition, which had to be fixed before his cleft could be dealt with. In August 2008, when I returned to Nizam’s, the little boy (heart fixed) was back. This time nothing would stop him.
His operation was performed by the wonderful Dr Mukunda Reddy, head of Nizam’s cleft unit – the transformation (below) was immediate and profound.
15 months on, Dr Reddy was in touch with me again last month to tell me about his recent prolonged stay in Africa, where he helped teach local doctors the world-class techniques he has honed in Hyderabad.
His knowledge – and that of all cleft specialists supported by The Smile Train – is crucial. Not only for the skill and expertise it represents but for the fact that such knowledge is retained (and spread) in the local community, a model that The Smile Train favours over the ‘flying doctor’ approach used by other (very good) cleft charities.
So here’s how Anji (below), helped not only by the original operation but by the quality of the aftercare, looks today.
Some story, eh? The Smile Train is a very real charity about very real people. So when people say, as one well-meaning individual did to me after the recent ‘Miles for Smiles’ fund-raising run in Dubai – “We’ve done enough now for The Smile Train – they’ve had enough” – I say no, they can never have enough.
Because more Anjis are being born every day. And unlike in the western world, parents’ trauma cannot be assuaged by immediate care and almost instant post-birth surgery.
Why? Because those parents in the emerging world – who care just as much about their children – simply cannot afford the treatment. Sometimes they don’t even know there is a treatment.
Each to their own. But The Moodie Report will maintain The Smile Train as its official charity because we believe not only in the work that is done, but also the way in which it is done – with transparency, integrity and, above all, effectiveness.
Another individual said to me in Dubai last month that they thought The Smile Train advertised too much.
My response then was as it is now – firstly, that the organisation buys ‘distressed’ advertising space (i.e. that which becomes available at the last minute through cancellations) very cheaply – I know, because I asked the same question before I donated my company’s money. And secondly, almost all of those costs are met by the original benefactors rather than donors [as a first time donor, 80% of your donation will go toward programmes that directly benefit children with clefts and 20% goes toward overhead costs. 100% of any future donation goes directly to help children with cleft and 0% to overheads.]
In my view, the fact that The Smile Train is highly adept in the media and advertising market (Co-Founder Brian Mullaney is a former advertising executive) is a strength not a weakness.
I want to give my money to (and champion) a charity that is run like a (highly ethical) business, but one with a heart. With The Smile Train I believe I see that charity. It is lean, transparent, highly competent, and honest as the day is long. That will suffice for me.
And if you’re not sure, let’s close out with the story of Jacklynne.
This sweet, five-year-old girl (below, pre- and post-operation) was operated on by The Smile Train surgeon Dr. Mark Shrime at the Mercy Ships – Liberia Hospital in Guinea, Africa.
She’s one of an estimated +25% increase in children showing up at The Smile Train’s units around the world this year as the charity’s work becomes better known. But this year, due to the global financial crisis, has seen an almost equally sharp fall in revenues raised.
Look at the transformation of Jacklynne. She’s not a statistic. She’s not an advertising image. She’s a little girl and a little daughter. And she – and her parents – had to wait five years for the beautiful, life-changing simplicity and impact of this operation.
I hope you’ll agree that the work of The Smile Train is not done.