Phalodi, Rajasthan, India | Jan 23 – Feb 1, 2009

Simran Kaur recently returned from Phalodi, Rajasthan, India where she provided administrative support to the MMFC surgical team. She resides in Fresno, California and manages the Patient Safety program at Children’s Hospital in Central California. Simran holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health and is pursuing a vocation in Global Health. We are excited to share Simran’s story.

Day One: Sunday January 25th 2009

After traveling by plane for over 24 hours, we arrive in Rajasthan to be greeted by garlands of marigolds! At the airport we gather our luggage – medical equipment, toys, and clothes that have traveled alongside us.  The team is excited for the upcoming week – many have visited this site before but for some of us, including myself, this will be a first.

This mission is meaningful to me for many reasons.  India is where my parents were born and raised, so this mission brings me that much closer (geographically and emotionally) to my history.  Growing up speaking Punjabi, a North Indian language, it was a great privilege that I was able to use it to communicate with the patients and their families. I strongly believe that all of us in this world should have access to quality health care regardless of our financial means, and so I feel honored to be part of MMFC, an organization that espouses the same core value and makes a real difference in the lives of so many children.

As Claire, one of our nurses, notes – arriving in Rajasthan is like coming home!  And that’s exactly what it feels like.  Rajasthan is definitely one of India’s unearthed jewels and it’s easy to be struck by the contrast of colors between the sandy dunes and colorful saris. Everything is welcoming – the people, the sights, the smells, the sounds.

Screening Day: Monday January 26th 2009

When we arrive at the hospital, the patients and their families are already waiting for us. In anticipation of our visit to Phalodi, our local site coordinator, Dr. Kanti Jain, and her team traveled into the surrounding communities to let families know about MMFC’s  upcoming visit. By doing so, Dr. Jain and her team were able to locate many children with cleft lips and palates and were able to educate their parents on the work of MMFC and our ability to correct their children’s deformities. What is also incredible about this site in Phalodi, Rajasthan is that patients are offered room and board at the hospital throughout the week – this type of support is incredibly valuable to our team and to the success of the mission. It allows MMFC to help more children from the most destitute and rural areas of Rajasthan.

Our screening process runs smoothly and we manage to schedule four surgeries for the same afternoon.  Our first day at the site also happens to fall on India’s Republic Day – and since we already feel like part of the family in Phalodi, we are invited to participate in a flag ceremony at the hospital.  It is a good feeling to be surrounded by our patients and to participate with them on this special day.

Mid Week

We continue to work efficiently and tirelessly during the week, but we are also reminded how challenging it is to provide medical care for an entire community in a developing country. Today, we had a problem with the oxygen tank making it almost impossible to run two beds simultaneously.  We were able to fix the problem, but not without delays and a bit of frustration.  The lesson, I think, is to accept the fact that when you are working in a developing country, not everything will go as planned.

Dr. Jain informed us that the operating room had not been used since our last visit here, a year ago. All the more reason it was a meaningful and fitting tribute when we dedicated the operating room to Mr. Alfred Z. Solomon, a benefactor, humanitarian and supporter of MMFC whose foundation helped to make our trip back to Phalodi possible.  We know the patients and their families are grateful to Mr. Solomon and his charitable organization.

End of Week: Friday January 30th 2009

Our small team of ten is pleased that we have been able to complete 30 surgeries this week. At the end of the week, Dr. Jain and her team planned a wonderful reception to bring everyone together.  It was a wonderful way to end the week and Dr. Jain provided an opportunity for parents to share their thoughts with the team.  It was heartwarming to hear about the impact that we’d had not only on the patients but also on their parents.  One of the families in attendance had two daughters who had undergone corrective procedures last year for their cleft lip and palates.  This year, we treated their older brother.  It was amazing to see how an entire family was affected by our missions to Phalodi.  You can’t really describe such an impact.

The entire experience reminds me of a favorite quote of mine by Che Guevara, “Let the world change you, And you can change the world.”

Back Home

Upon returning to the US, I heard about an Oscar-nominated film called Smile Pinki that chronicles the story of eight-year-old Pinki and her journey from being a social outcast in her village in India – to her acceptance, and even deification, by her society.  Pinki was born with a cleft lip in an impoverished family and the first few years of her life were spent in abject unhappiness.  Pinki and her parents dealt with her stigmatization and wondered how she’d ever get married.  A few years ago, a plastic surgeon spotted Pinki and was able to perform surgery on her lip.  The film is about the change that came into Pinki’s life with this surgery and the transformation, not only physical, but an emotional transformation in this young girl’s life.  This film may be about Pinki – but as those of us who have been involved with MMFC know – there is a Pinki inside each and every one of our patients.  We do the work we do so that every child born with a devastating congenital deformity can have the same opportunity for a happy, healthy and productive life, just like Pinki.

One Month Later:

Congratulations Smile Pinki for winning Best Documentary Short at the Oscars! Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to Director Megan Mylan and Smile Train for telling the story of Pinki and for bringing awareness to the world of all the children who suffer from cleft lip and palate deformities and whose lives can be changed in such a beautiful way by a surgery that takes less than an hour to complete and costs approximately $250.00.