Project #1206

Free Cleft Surgery for 400 Poor Children in India

by Smile Train
Smile Train donor Paul Peabody
Smile Train donor Paul Peabody

Varanasi, India - Paul Peabody, acclaimed violinist with the New York City Ballet and part of the Grammy winning orchestra that scored "Titanic," just returned from an unforgettable journey providing the gift of music throughout India. A long time Smile Train supporter, Paul enjoyed his second tour of Smile Train India partner hospitals, playing fiddle for patients, families, doctors, and staff.

He spent most of his five weeks alongside Smile Train partners Dr. Sunil Richardson, Dr. Jyostna Murthy, and Dr. Subodh Singh. Paul comforted patients with a myriad of music from classical to traditional Hindi songs, but the requests really came pouring in when staff would find out that he played an integral role in the music for "Titanic." Paul primarily rotated between the waiting room and the recovery room to calm the fears of patients and parents before surgery and use the healing powers of music to aid in their recovery. Towards the end of his trip, Paul was even asked to play for the doctors inside the OR.

"When Dr. Sunil Richardson asked if I would play [in the OR], I gave a stricken look and I made him promise me that there was no way that my sounds could interfere at all with anyone's concentration! He told me that many surgeons actually play classical music to help them concentrate. In the OR everything worked like clockwork: extremely peaceful."

Children who had never heard, let alone seen, a violin before, found themselves glued to their seats as the music washed over them. Whether it was playing Hindi folk songs to comfort crying patients, or playing some of the pop songs he worked on for Michael Jackson and Madonna, Paul's talents, enthusiasm, and kindness revered him to everyone he met.

His visit coincided with India's Independence Day, August 15, where he joined in the celebration by playing for and assisting in Dr. Singh's tree planting, Green Independence Day Initiative. Paul has recently returned to New York and is already getting ready to plan his trip next year.

Paul Peabody playing in the Smile Train OR
Paul Peabody playing in the Smile Train OR
Paul Peabody and Smile Train Dr. Subodh Singh
Paul Peabody and Smile Train Dr. Subodh Singh
Baby, G.S. Memorial
Baby, G.S. Memorial's 20,000th Smile Train Patient

Recently, one of Smile Train’s oldest and highest performing partner hospitals, G. S. Memorial Plastic Surgery Hospital in Varanasi, India, reached a new milestone — 20,000 Smile Train sponsored free cleft surgeries. Under the leadership of Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh, G. S. Memorial is one of the largest cleft centers in the world and has been a Smile Train partner since April 2004. Dr. Subodh and his staff are also featured in the 2008 Academy Award®-winning Documentary, Smile Pinki.

The 20,000th patient, Baby, is an 8-month-old girl born with both a cleft lip and palate. She was originally screened by Dr. Subodh at a camp in Daltonganj, Jharkhand when she was 13 days old, but was not fit for her surgery scheduled in December. She returned this summer for her surgery and became G.S. Memorial’s 20,000th patient.


Hyderabad, India – Coming all the way from Nigeria, Nkeiruka Obi (NK for short) our new Program Manager of West Africa, met her counterparts for the first time. Under the guidance of expert Smile Train partner Dr. Subodh (of Smile Pinki fame), NK witnessed a cleft examination at a special conference designed to bring together the international Smile Train team and set forth a structural plan for the coming years.

NK is responsible for bolstering our programs throughout Western Africa, a hard task considering the lack of trained surgeons and deeprooted superstitions in many of the countries she will be working in. NK remains undaunted in her task of growing Smile Train’s programs and is determined to make the most of her time in Hyderabad and learn more about the successful expansion of our Indian programs over the last decade and take their best practices back to Nigeria.

As NK pointed out in an email a few days onto the job, dismissing the myths and stigmas associated with clefts is the first step to making sure every child can smile.

 ”I just got back from the South West Region, and to my utmost, shock discovered that children with clefts are still being condemned to a lifetime of isolation and suffering in that part of the country, some even abandoned or killed. In fact, it is incredible.

On my way, the taxi driver was stopped by the local govt. ‘boys’ to produce his state driver’s licence…which of course was not available as we were coming from Lagos. After much pleading, they told the guy to pay N42000 before they can let us go. At that point, I had to step in.  I shared with them the mission of Smile Train  and gave them a copy of our flier. Immediately, one of them confessed that this was news to them as from where they are from the belief is that clefts are monsters or rabbits in human form that shouldn’t be allowed to live….fortunately one of them had a brother that had a cleft. With the revelation that a cleft can be corrected and now at no cost, I gave him the contact details of our partners in the SW.”

Thanks to an attempted bribery, of all things, one more patient whose community thought that he was a monster will be receiving surgery and a new life. You can be sure that he’ll be spreading this great news to everyone he can, helping us dispell the local superstitions and help even more patients. With NK’s help, we plan to greatly expand our programs throughout Africa and reach every child with a cleft.

Since we were founded in 1999, Smile Train has provided over 630,000 cleft lip and palate surgeries to poor children in developing countries.  So far this year, Smile Train India partners have performed 215,076 surgeries.  We have also added 5 new medical partners to our team.  Thank you so much for helping us give desperate children a second chance at life!

Bill Brower is a Field Program Officer with GlobalGiving who visited our partners’ projects throughout South and Southeast Asia. On June 15th he visited the Smile Train Cleft Lip and Palate Centre at Meenakshi Mission Hospital in Madurai. His “Postcard” from the visit:

Smile Train and Meenakshi provide totally free surgeries to those with cleft lip, palate and other facial birth defects in southern India. This includes transport—a prohibitive expense for many which is often overlooked.

I spoke with a mother holding her baby who had just recently undergone the surgery. She said when the baby was born everyone in her family cried. According to the staff at the hospital, the biggest challenge they face is educating the parents—convincing them that the birth defect was not the result of the “sin of the parents”. The woman said, “they’re not crying now.” She and her husband are day laborers, and would not have been able to otherwise afford the surgery.

I also spoke with a 21-year-old who had arrived by bus from 2.5 hours away. She had gone to one of the camps the Centre puts on in communities in the region and had come in a few days previous to get surgery performed on her cleft palate. She showed off the results and said she’d come back for speech therapy.

Judging by the Smile Train partner I met with in Manila (, the center could be able to do more surgeries so further support would hopefully help the Centre expand its reach.

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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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