Sunday, July 7, 2013

Documentary: Smile Pinki (2008)

In India today, there are 35,000 children born each year with cleft palate. Many of these children never receive any treatment for what is an easily correctable facial defect that is believed to occur sometime between the 4th and 12th week of development. Many children with this defect are from very impoverished families in India and it is thought that poor nutrition may be responsible. But a charity, Smile Train is working to change that.

This documentary follows two children as they journey from a life of shame to one of hope. The documentary opens with its workers traveling throughout India, spreading by posters and personal contact, the information that children who have this facial deformity can be helped. "Do you know anyone who has this?" is the question often asked.

Social worker, Pankaj Kumar Singh, travels rural India, talking in markets and schools to get the word out about cleft palate and to tell people that there is nothing to be ashamed about and that the cleft palate can be repaired for free. Knowledgeable and friendly, Pankaj is direct and persuasive with reluctant parents, carefully explaining the process to families desperate for help. He makes the children he visits in schools promise to spread the word.

While at one school, Pankaj learns of a little girl named Pinki Kumari Sonkar who has cleft palate. They travel to her family's village in Mirapur District and meet with Pinki's father, Rajendra. Pinki's parents believe that she was born with a cleft palate because of an eclipse that happened while Pinki was in her mother's womb. Pankja invites her parents to bring her to G.S. Memorial Plastic Surgery Hospital in Banaras for free treatment. They agree to do so. They will be responsible for transportation to Banaras and will have to pay for their food. Other than that, all medicine and surgery costs will be covered. Pinki will have to stay in the hospital for seven days.

Despite having to walk over three hours to the nearest village, Rajendra agrees to take his daughter. Like parents everywhere, these desperately poor people want the best for their children. Many worry how their sons, but especially their daughters will marry. In some cases, the mother is held responsible for the child's situation and is told to leave the family. In other situations, mother and baby are completely abandoned or the child is killed.

We also meet 11 year old Ghutaru Chauhan, who has a cleft palate and cannot speak properly. Because his speech has been affected, Ghutaru no longer attends school. Although the documentary focuses primarily on Pinki, I was most touched by Ghutaru and another boy's situation. We see both children before and after their operations and the results are staggeringly wonderful. Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh was the surgeon who operated on these children. Ghutaru, who had a gaping upper palate saw this repaired.

Since 2004, CS Memorial has operated on 6000 patients, however, the hospital now sees at least 3,000 patients per year. In India there are over a million children with cleft palate, likely due to poor nutrition and also genetic factors.

Smile Pinki is a touching documentary that educates viewers on what is a relatively rare facial deformity in the developed world by showing us the faces of real children who have cleft palate and allowing us to experience a little of their lives. Isolation, abandonment and even death can be the norm for these children. Our faces are so important to all of us because they are what we use to show ourselves to others, to the world. Directed by Megan Mylan, Smile Pinki won and Oscar in the Documentary - Short category.

Smile Train was brought to the forefront today in Great Britain during the championship match at Wimbleton, between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, when Pinki, now a beautiful eleven year old, did the coin toss.

You can watch the entire documentary on Vimeo at

The documentary's website is Smile Pink.

The documentary is shown below. Please consider donating to this worthwhile charity.You can read about many of the wonderful stories on their blog Amazingly some families have both parents and children who have had this facial problem corrected.

Smile Pinki from asg on Vimeo.

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