Bringing smiles to children in India
Dr. Subodh Singh with former patient Pinki Sonkar. Photo courtesy of Smile Train
Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh has performed more than 12,000 surgeries to correct cleft lip and palate birth defects since 2004. One of his most celebrated patients, Pinki Sonkar, was the subject of the documentary Smile Pinki , which won an Academy Award for best documentary short in 2009. The 39-minute film was directed by Megan Mylan.
Singh, a member of the Rotary Club of Varanasi Midtown, Uttar Pradesh, India, and of a 1996-97 Group Study Exchange team to Brazil, repaired Pinki’s cleft lip when she was five years old. The US$250 surgery was available at no cost to her family through Smile Train , a n international charity that provides cleft lip and palate surgery to children in need and cleft-related training to doctors.
Before she received the surgery, Pinki was unable to attend school due to mistreatment from other children.
“The life of a cleft child in India is really miserable,” says Singh. “They grow up uneducated, and they are secluded and don’t have any friends.” In addition to speech abnormalities, he says, children with unrepaired clefts have an average life expectancy 15 years shorter than other children, due to feeding difficulties in early childhood and other factors.
In the film, after the 45-minute surgery and a five-day stay in the hospital, Pinki and her father return home to her mother, who cries with joy at the sight of her daughter’s beautiful face.
In the film’s final scenes, Pinki laughs with friends, and another of Singh’s patients, 11-year-old Ghutaru Chauhan, plays cricket with classmates. Both children, according to Smile Train, are attending school and excelling in their studies.
Rotary clubs worldwide have directly funded more than 200 cleft lip and palate surgeries for children through Smile Train, according to the organization. In 2007, a $15,756 Rotary Foundation Matching Grant project, sponsored by the Varanasi Midtown club and the Rotary Club of Mansfield, Victoria, Australia, supplied medical and surgical equipment to the hospital in Varanasi where Singh’s team has performed more than 18,000 procedures.
“I’ve seen a large number of patients whose lives have been transformed after the surgery,”says Singh. “Through Smile Train, they have regained their confidence.”
Written for Reconnections