Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Smile Train Dinner

As I mentioned yesterday we have received a very nicely put together invite package to the Smile Train 10th year celebration dinner. Personally signed by Brian, the invite explains that the organisation doesn't have much time for parties on account of how busy they are fixing the world's smiles, one at a time. And the stats prove it's true. I've mentioned on here how the Smile Train have made over half a million cleft repair operations possible in just 10 years but the most interesting fact, I believe, is this one;

"This year the Smile Train will be able to fix more clefts in India and China than the amount of babies born with one"

I had to read that a couple of times because it's hard to believe, especially when you consider than nearly 1 Chinese household in 10 is affected by a birth defect. Granted not all, or even the majority will be clefts but it's a huge number all the same. And that's just China, India will have similarly alarming figures. Plus, don't forget, the Smile Train won't just be working in these two countries; they'll be helping thousands of others in more than 75 of the world's poorest countries as well.

Anyway, back to the point, which is that in China and India, the Smile Train, after only ten years will actually be helping now to reduce the overall number of children born with clefts and people who have suffered with them all of their lives. That really is incredible in the true sense of the word. Has ever a charity after such a short period of time achieved such a massive turnaround, achieved a level of success which matches its original goals so closely? I don't know but I can't think many would have.

I don't have any hard facts to hand but can you imagine where we might be in another 10 years? There is obviously still a huge worldwide backlog but talk about 'we're getting there'. That used to be British Rail's slogan which was rightly mocked and ridiculed but here's an organisation that could absolutely claim it.

I'm sure if you talked to anyone at Smile Train and especially Brian, they'd tell you that this is still the beginning, the surface is only just scratched but in terms of stage one we must surely be approaching job done? Conceivably there could come a situation actually in our life time when globally the number of unrepaired clefts could be dwindling and when the problem becomes 'contained'. A time even when there are no unrepaired clefts left and where the only operations left to do are those we don't need yet i.e for babies yet to be born. Perhaps I'm being naive with enormous rose tinted glasses on but this is surely the original driving force and motivation behind the doctrine of the Smile Train's philosophy. This would actually mean that fewer surgeons would be needed. Ironically the more successful the Smile Train is, the smaller it could become, the polar opposite of every other aspirational, ambitious enterprise. And that must be the overall goal for every charity, to no longer be needed. The difference is this charity could achieve it, or something very close to it. I admit this is pretty flippant, to suggest that such an important organisation which has and will have done so much to no longer be needed to be around but it is a point worth making.

The final thought I have is that, whilst the stats on the 500,000 ops to date are impressive the effects must reach so much further. For every family who benefits directly by having a cleft-affected member fixed, there will be those around that family who learn and share with others. Those other people will know others affected and can pass on the word of this organisation doing good things. That will give hope and understanding. Imagine that for every operation one community learns that a) pregnant mothers ought to take follic acid where before they'd have no clue b) there's a possibility that child / adult b,c, and d in their midst may be operated on free of charge and soon, and that most importantly c) a cleft is not something to be ashamed of, it is what it is, get over it.

So when you add it all up, 500,000 is really the tip of an enormous worldwide iceberg.

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