Friday, 9 October 2009

And the Oscar goes to....

I spent yesterday trying to think what sort of evening we would have. I didn't know if there'd be 500 or 50 people. I made a sensible guess that I would more likely be part of a larger number than a select few. In the end I reckon there were maybe 120 ish guests so between us, to make up over 1% of the audience made us feel particularly privileged.

I'll start by saying it was a really great night and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I thought I'd been to the Berkerley before when trying to flog them a website years ago but I now think that may have been the Burlington. Whatever. The Berkerley is pretty swanky and after sat nav had failed to get us anywhere close enough to be useful and several heated words later, we eventually found a parking spot and managed to only be 20 minutes late. The room was filling up and we sipped our sparkling whilst I scanned the room for signs of Martin. As it turned out he couldn't make it due to last minute business complications. It was a shame as I was looking forward to catching up and more importantly saying thanks for the invite. Perhaps next time.

Clare and I were chatting when an American chap came forward, stuck out his hand and introduced himself as Brian Mullaney, the co-founder of the Smile Train, as if the last part of the intro was necessary. I was a little shocked and almost star struck but needn't have been. He seems almost matter of fact about his achievements but he still speaks with passion about the job which lies ahead. We chatted for a while - it was him who told me Martin had been caught up with work - talked about the blog and Twitter etc and then went into the banquet room.

We sat on a table of 9, closest to the stage and had the privilege of sitting next to Mr. Mullaney Snr., a former vice president of Gillette. Shortly after Brian took to the stage and gave a riveting speech detailing the back story of the Smile Train. Photos accompanied the talk via two large projector screens. Most of the story I had heard in parts before but Brian has such a business-like way of telling it. Showing the difference that the 'teach a man to fish' ideology makes over the more traditional missionary approach. I could be wrong but I believe the stats read something along the lines that in the first year that the Smile Train took hold some 8,000 cleft repairs were made possible and that it would take 30 years to achieve the same using the alternative method. One slide showed the number of operations performed over the ten years with an ever increasingly vertical trend. This was compared against a very similar graph, although this one was for the number of donors. Currently the Smile Train has 1.4m donors and although I have no idea what that equates to in terms of finance, I can imagine it is a huge amount of money and this is obviously a major reason why the problem is being tackled so effectively.

One of the things which resounded most was that unlike many health problems which affect so many such as malaria or AIDS, there is no search for the cure, we have the cure and it takes 45 minutes! No funding is provided by UK or US governments, this has all been achieved through charitable giving.

Brian went on to make a couple of points that I have written about. The first being the fact that they will fix more Indian and Chinese clefts this year than the number of children who will be born with one and that he hopes we'll all be back in a few years at the Smile Train's 'going out of business' party! Also they touched on the greater number of people who will have been positively affected by the good that ST does. I.E those families, villages, communities who have better quality of life, hope, education etc following a cleft repair to one of their number. I'm glad we're onthe same page, I felt pretty flippant when I made those observations before.

He said that the finishing line is in sight. Apparently the backlog was 4 million un-repaired clefts before they started. The next half million repairs will happen in half the time the first half million did, so this thing is scaling up at an alarming rate. I honestly think that the Smile Train might be one of the first charities ever to eradicate the backlog of a problem and be easily able to contain the ongoing problem within its founder's lifetime. That has got to be the ultimate motivator for Brian and his team. He showed pictures of a man who'd spent 40 years waiting for a 45 minute operation which changed his life forever. He also told stories of girls who were literally thrown away at birth in shoe boxes on rubbish tips as their parents couldn't cope with having given birth to a deformed child. One of the speakers said that in India to be born a woman is already a disadvantage but to be born a woman with a cleft is unthinkable.

Dinner was delicious; a trio of mushroom soup, risotto and flat mushroom with parmesan to start (Clare had the alternative, she hates all fungi) followed by fillet of beef with rosti and veg and finished with an apple struddle and ice cream. Coffee and chocolates accompanied the final speeches. The last speaker was an Indian man, Dr Hirji Adenwalla, who was fixing clefts, one smile at a time, long before the Smile Train ever came to town. Aged just 20 he set up camp in a disused hospital, his new wife / untrained anaesthetist in tow and with rudimentary medical supplies started making magic happen. When the Smile Train did come along the partnership which formed thereafter has been making history ever since. He said;

'To see a child smile is one of the most wonderful things one can experience however to see a child unable to smile is one of the worst things one can experience.'

This man spoke with such reverence and you can see the passion he still has today and it's truly awe inspiring. He mentioned that along with the donors, and children who are helped, the surgeons gain so much from this process. He spoke to the audience about how, even as caring donors they will never know what the parents feel when they collect their child or they will not see the look on those parents' faces when they see their child fixed for the first time. We do though, we know that absolutely. I shook his hand afterwards and thanked him but also told him, we know just how it feels. A lovely man.

The agenda made reference to the Smile Pinki Oscar success but it never occurred to me that the actual Oscar might be there. Brian made a point of inviting us up to hold it and take a photo or two and I jumped at the chance. Also, it seems I didn't have to play the stalker as Brian was only too willing to pose for a photo as you'll see below. We only had an iphone hence the quality but at least we captured the moment.

There's so much more I wish I could remember so I'll update this if it comes back to me but for now, I'm really grateful we got to go and I believe in the charity even more than I did before.

We were all given a copy of Smile Pinki to go home with but you can order yours for nothing at the Smile Train website. They're giving a million of them away, Brian said 'It amazes me how cheap it is to distribute a film when you own it'. Cheap only if you discount 10 years of unbelievable hard work and all of the millions raised!


Janine said...

Hi, great to see you all earlier. I've put your blog up on on my site and am following you on twitter.

ps. Saw the pic, did you get an award???

Janine x

James Fernie said...

I wish! This was the Oscar that Smile Train won for best documentary when they filmed Smile it and you'll see why!