Project #1206

Free Cleft Surgery for 400 Poor Children in India

by Smile Train

Kota, India — Mili's adoptive mother shares her story.


It was a cool breezy morning on the 13th of April, 2012. I was travelling from Ratlam to Kota on a passenger train. In India, passenger trains are sometimes also referred to as ‘local train as they are slow, stop at every small station and most of the passengers belong to lower income groups or are travelling short distances. I began my journey at 5 am in the morning. It was the beginning of summer; the weather was pleasant and mildly cloudy. It began like any other day, and I had no idea at the time, what it had in store for me.


As we rustled along, I noticed the faint cry of a child. It was almost 7 am now and we had reached Mehatpur station. I brushed it away assuming the child belonged to one of the passengers in the same bogey. But the crying did not stop for another 1.5 to 2 hours. I tried asking around in my compartment where the baby was, but no one seemed to know.

An Abandoned Baby

After a while, I got up to use the facilities. Concerned and curious at the same time, I stopped in front of the nearby compartment to look around. I could not spot any child, but the crying seemed to originate in there. Then I looked under the seats. There, wrapped in a small piece of blue saree cloth, was a little baby girl, crying incessantly, throwing her hands and legs about.


I was shocked. The female infant was naked and had a cleft lip. Even the umbilical cord was wet at the time. Picking up the child in my arms, I asked the passengers around if they knew about the baby.To my horror, no one claimed the baby nor did they know where she came from. I coddled the child in my lap and tried to calm her.


The train came to a stop at Alot station. There I brought some milk and fed her with a spoon. The hungry infant became quiet and soon fell asleep in my lap. I gazed at the new born child with her cleft.

A Life-Changing Decision

Then it occurred to me that I could take the baby with me to Kota and raise her as my own as I have no daughter. I have two sons 20 year old Montu and 17 year old Sontu. My motherly feelings for this girl child were special. I felt tender and affectionate and the more I thought about it, the more determined I became. Although I was not sure how my family would react to it. I stay with my parents and brothers as my husband and I have filed for a divorce.


Back at home, everyone accepted the child except my elder brother. He was afraid that it could be illegal keeping a child found unattended in the train. I reassured him by suggesting that we could try an advertisement in the newspaper for the lost child. That way, the real parents, if they wanted to, could claim her back.


The advertisement was given a few days later. After waiting for several days, nobody came to claim the child. We finally decided to raise the little bundle of joy as our own and give her a good upbringing. She was named Mili – which in Hindi means ‘found.’


I was, however, worried about her cleft lip and palate. It was difficult to feed her and I was concerned about all the ridicule she might face in her life. The only way she could swallow food was by making her lie on her back and carefully feeding her with a spoon. The milk would leak through her cleft lip and palate if we tried to feed her in the sitting position.

Mili's Smile

I was returning from a court session one day when I met the secretary of my lawyer. 4 months had passed since I had adopted Mili. The secretary heard of my daughter’s condition and mentioned a possible treatment at Alok Hospital in Kota. She told me the treatment was free. Hearing that, I was overjoyed and anxious at the same time. I did not waste time in getting to Alok hospital. I met Dr. Alok Garg, and came to know that he had performed thousands of cleft lip and palate surgeries free of cost through Smile Train. After a brief examination of Mili, he assured me that she could be operated on and her lip would be fine. Mili was admitted in the hospital on the same day and the surgery was performed on the 7th of July.


Several months have passed since Mili was first operated on. She is now due for a second operation, the date for which shall be decided soon. When I look back at that fateful April day when Mili came to us, I still wonder how many poor children out there are abandoned due to their clefts. Mili is a lucky child and I am hopeful for her future. Thank you.


Varanasi, India — In 2007, Pinki was a frightened little girl in need of free cleft repair surgery. Today, she is confident and loves to show off her smile.

Born with a cleft lip to a loving, but poor family, Pink Sonkar spent the first 6 years of her life dreaming that she could one day look like the other children in her village. One day, a social worker from Smile Train partner hospital G.S. Memorial Plastic Surgery Hospital came to her village and told her family of Smile Train's free cleft surgery programs. Pinki's remarkable journey to receive cleft surgery was documented in the Oscar®–winning film Smile Pinki. Since her surgery, Pinki has been going to school, making friends, and living the life that her family once thought was impossible.

Recently, Smile Train Program Director of India, Mamtaa Carrol, visited Pinki and her family to see how she is doing and give her big hugs from the entire Smile Train family! Mamtaa reported that Pinki is very happy and is doing quite well in school.

Mamtaa asked Pinki and her family some questions from our Smile Train supporters.

What would you like to be when you grow up? — Loriann L.
Pinki: I would like to be a [community] leader

How many friends do you have?— Mariano C.
Pinki: My closest friends are Amrita, Anuradha Patel & Shivangi

How is school now, Pinki ? — Lisa M.
Pinki: My favorite subject is English!

Pinki's little brother, Lalu, was eager to join in and wants to be a police officer when he grows up. As Pinki said, "He will catch all the robbers and people who do bad things."

Thanks to our amazing partner hospital, generous supporters and hard working team, Pinki is growing up happily and living a normal life.


Lucknow, India — Doctors, patients, and the Minister of Protocol, the Honorable Prof. Abhishek Mishra, celebrated the launch of the city's newest bus at Vivekananda Polyclinic and Institute of Medical Sciences. Fanfare like this normally wouldn't accompany a bus launch, but this is no ordinary bus —this bus delivers smiles.

In an effort to help desperately poor patients receive the free cleft surgery they need, the Smile Train Bus will run a door-to-door service directly to Vivekananda Polyclinic and Institute of Medical Sciences. For patients whose families live off less than $2 a day, travelling to and from the hospital can be a financial strain. This is exacerbated by the poor connectivity in the region, where it can take more than a day for a rural family to travel 20 miles into the city. In an effort to alleviate this burden and help families enroll their children into our programs, a special Smile Train grant was provided for the bus.

The inaugural trip saw 25 cleft patients brought to a local zoo where they received a VIP tour of the facility including ice cream and a train ride through zoo. The event was capped off by the hospital's "adoption" of a chimpanzee named Smiley. This new mascot, along with the bus will serve to help raise awareness of Smile Train's free cleft programs throughout Lucknow and surrounding villages.

After the trip to the zoo, Smile Train patients were returned home and the Smile Train Bus was filled-up with gas in preparation for an even bigger following day.

Smile Train partner Dr. Jyotsna Murthy with cleft patient

More than a decade after her first Smile Train surgery in 2001, Dr. Jyotsna Murthy MS, M Ch, DNB has provided over 5,000 free cleft lip and palate surgeries. Not to mention all of the surgeons that she has trained and instructed as a professor at Sri Ramachandra University and on countless medical/training missions.

Her generosity and compassion know no bounds as she has spearheaded numerous initiatives in India for surgical care and has been integral in Smile Train’s development of new local partners. She is dedicated to not only repairing clefts, but understanding them as well and is involved in many research projects on the psychosocial problems that can develop from unrepaired clefts and the genetic study of how clefts form.

Derhadun, India — After a long day's work, Mr. Amarjeet Singh Narwal finally lay asleep on a cold, peaceful night. Around 3a.m., he was startled awake by a strange wailing outside. He threw on a coat and opened the door, where he found an infant wrapped in a dirty, tattered piece of cloth. He cradled the baby in his arms, assuming that the boy's parents had abandoned their son at his door due to his cleft lip and palate.

Smile Train patient Krishna Narwal before cleft surgery

Amarjeet and his wife brought Krishna, as they named him, to Jankalayan Samiti, a local NGO, to see if they could help. The group provided the Narwals with food and clothes for the baby. The difficulty of feeding little Krishna left him underweight and suffering from a repeated cough and fever. Despite the help they received, when they learned that Krishna would also suffer from speech difficulties on top of his deformity, they feared that his young life and future would be full of despair and torment.

Smile Train Surgeon Dr. Dvivedi Examining Krishna

One day, the Himalayan Institute’s Smile Train team reached Panipat for a health camp. The members of Jankalyan Samiti contacted the team about the Narwals and Krishna's treatment in great detail, providing a ray of hope. Amarjeet soon brought his 5-month-old son to Smile Train partner Himalayan Hospital (known locally as Jolly Grant Hospital). Further examinations at the hospital revealed along with a cleft lip and palate, Krishna also suffered from malnutrition and a skin infection. Seeing Krishna’s condition, the Smile Train team started the necessary antibiotic treatment and taught the Narwals proper feeding techniques, basic health care, and nutrition.

Smile Train patient Krishna Narwal after free surgery

The results of the treatment were fantastic and Krishna was soon ready for his free surgery. To top it all off, surgeon Dr. Sanjay Dvivedi convinced the management of the Himalayan Institute to financially support Krishna after his treatment. Dr. Dvivedi repaired Krishna’s cleft lip and nose free of charge, giving him a bright new smile. Krishna was soon discharged from the hospital with his relieved family and has been scheduled for free cleft palate surgery when he is 9 months old. Thanks to the expert Smile Train team at Himalayan Institute, the Narwals can look forward to a bright future for their new son.


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Organization Information

Smile Train

Location: New York - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Smile Train
Project Leader:
Adina Wexelberg-Clouser
Donor Relations Associate
New York, New York United States

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