How Photography Empowered Me To Help Children Born With A Cleft

Posted by SmileTrainIndia in Society
January 4, 2018

Young Yash Kunde, or Cheeku as everyone calls him, lives in Pandroli, a small village near Nashik, with his parents. When he was born, everyone came to see him, because he was born with a gap in his lip and no one had seen someone like that before. When Aasmi was born, she became a nightmare for her mother, because she was also born with a cleft

Like them, in the hinterlands of developing countries like India, manys of children continue to live with a cleft lip and/or palate. But their lives can change with a timely surgery which heals the cleft and they are able to live a transformed life and grow up happily.

Aasmi after her cleft surgery!

Many of us have never seen a child with a cleft. I was also unaware of the severity of the situation until I came across Smile Train and read up about the stigmas attached to clefts in developing nations. Because of these misconceptions, children born with a cleft are forced to live a life of shame, with most not being able to attend school, or get married and have a family. The situation worsens in the remote areas where medical and education facilities are limited, where these children grow up abandoned and isolated, a life no one deserves. They have trouble eating, breathing and speaking.

However, with planned interventions like those by Smile Train, across 85 countries including India, these children are getting a second chance at life. It was in 2015 that I visited a Smile Train partner hospital in New Delhi when I saw the program first hand and was deeply impressed by it. I met patients who have benefited from the surgical interventions, and have managed to grow up without speech impediments, like any other child. Knowing and interacting with them was a very emotional experience for me. It was so sad to see so many lives completely affected by the cleft. I was also in awe of the doctors and volunteers that selflessly worked to support these patients. And finally, I was very touched by the joy in the eyes of those patients who had had the surgery and were healing fast.

As a 12-year-old, I could relate to this issue even more, because I felt grateful that I could lead an easier life and wished that every child got that chance as well. It was then, that I decided to support Smile Train in some manner so that more children could get an opportunity to get these surgeries. With a medical charity like Smile Train, our efforts can contribute immensely towards creating awareness and raising funds for the cause.

I have supported many charitable causes over the years. For instance, my first photo exhibition raised funds for the Kashmir flood victims in 2014 and I also raised funds via my photography for building a music room in a local school in Pretoria, South Africa, as part of a project with my school. I discussed with my parents that I would try and give a purpose to my interest in photography and Smile Train offered an opportunity to do so. Their work with children and that too in developing countries really helped me connect with this cause.

The one thing I would like to change for the children born with a cleft is access to better medical facilities earlier in their life so that this simple surgery can be done when they are very young. I also believe that supporting charitable causes from a very young age teaches us that we need to give back to society and that no contribution is too early or too small. It also teaches us to be grateful for what we have and how to be generous in sharing our resources with others.

With Khushboo, former cleft patient, who is now able to smile and enjoy her life!

In my current endeavour to support Smile Train, I have worked on a photography book, building it over time, through my various travels, both with my family and my school. In its inception stage, we explored ideas about how we could use it to raise funds for Smile Train and decided that a photography book would allow us to tell a story and could be listed on platforms like Amazon, where it could be on sale for a very long time, allowing us to raise more funds and build more awareness for the cause.

For children like Yash and Aasmi, these surgeries are life-changing, and small efforts such as crowdfunding or school cake sales can play a very important part in enabling them. I hope you will support my endeavour by purchasing the book and contributing to Smile Train through this Amazon link.

Padma Shri Mrs Deepa Malik, an advocate for cleft surgeries, in support of the efforts towards raising funds to provide these surgeries in time

The article has been written by 12-year-old Ameya Kulkarni, who lives in London with his parents and has been supporting charitable causes since he was eight.

Images provided by author.