by Jaimie Shaff

photo: Shakuntala before surgery

We’ve all played the classic game “heads, shoulders, knees, and toes (knees and toes!)” Actually, I’ve been so wrapped up in adulthood, I had forgotten about it. One night when we visited the Bhil Academy, I saw Naiara playing the game with the smallest kids and remembered singing the song with my cousins and preschool students, back in the day. Part of the song goes “eyes and ears and nose and mouth…” and the children point to the respective parts of the face. Two eyes. Two ears. One nose. One mouth. Something so simple, most of us don’t even think about the meaning.

photo: Shakuntala after surgery

For children born with cleft palates, the song is not so simple. The physical deformity is visually shocking, and can cause much stigma against the child throughout life. From what we have seen in rural India, when the child is first born, parents don’t know what to do or how to feed the baby, and some children end up severely malnourished. As the child grows up, he or she is often ostracized from his/her peers, leading to delinquency and absence from school. As an adult, the acceptance into society is reduced, and all social aspects of life are affected. For women in our region, a cleft palate is a serious burden to bear, increasing risks such as domestic violence and job discrimination.

photo: Sharikia before surgery

Fortunately, a solution is simple. A procedure that takes only 30 minutes can change the entire future for a child. Unfortunately, the knowledge of available services and access to such is not widespread in rural areas, and the burden of a curable birth “defect” adds weight to an already difficult life.

20 February 2011, SmileTrain and CHL-Apollo-Indore Hospital held a health screening in Meghnagar for cleft palates, heart conditions, thyroid issues, and other ailments not screened for at rural health centers. Our nutrition team arranged for three children from three districts to be screened for cleft palate operations, and the team at CHL-Apollo offered to operate on any children we brought with us to pre-op.

photo: Sharika after surgery
On Wednesday, Naiara, Edith, Pushpa, Manisha, and myself brought four children from the districts of Jhabua, Khargone, and Barwani to CHL-Apollo for pre-op (three children were sick and had to be postponed).

17 March 2011, all four children received successful operations for their cleft palates.  Thanks to the incredible support and efforts by SmileTrain and the team of CHL-Apollo, the lives of Shakuntala, Sharika, Pepita, and Pipu will be forever changed.

photo: Pepita before surgery

I was absolutely overwhelmed with the quality of care and attention provided by CHL-Apollo, and am so grateful to see the generosity and compassion that exists in the world.  Out of all of the experiences I’ve had working here, this was certainly one of the best.

photo: Pepita after surgery
Three of the children will be receiving a second surgery in June, and three more children are in line for their first.  We can’t wait to see their new smiles!

A special thanks goes to Mr. Rajul Bhargava, Dr. Jaideep Chauhan, the team at CHL-Apollo, and the staff of Hotel Infiniti for all that you did to make this possible.

SmileTrain’s website can be found here: and CHL-Apollo-Indore Hospital can be found here:

For more information about RMF’s Malnutrition Eradication Program in India, click here and the Bhil Academy click here

To contribute to this initiative, visit our website

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