Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Smile Train

Please note this has been slightly edited.

For those of you who have not heard about Smile Train, I wanted to pass this along.

This is an email sent by Brian Mullaney from Smile train. Take your time, read through the email and then watch the video he made.

It is truly Life Changing. Imagine if these stories were being told about Canadian kids? Imagine the public outcry that would happen? Why is it that these people are being forgotten? What are we scared of? What are we hding from by not being willing to open up and give our hearts?

here it is...


I just returned from an eye-opening trip to one of the poorest places on our planet.

We went to visit Dadaab, a sprawling refugee camp, on the Somalia – Kenya border.

It is a safe haven for all the people who have fled Somalia due to the violence, Islamic insurgents, famine, etc.

And it is one of the poorest, saddest, most horrific places I have ever seen.

The camp was built as a temporary solution in 1992 to house 90,000 refugees – 18 years later it holds 300,000 wretched souls of which 20% are under 5 years old. More than 5,000 new refugees show up every week begging for food and shelter. But there is no more room and no more food.

We met with Dr. Dan, our partner surgeon who is a true, modern-day Good Samaritan and bonafide Saint who has been saving children and adults here for the past 5 years. His commitment and passion – even after 5 very difficult years – were really inspiring. 

These 300,000 children and their parents in Dadaab are truly stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On one side they face violence and death in Somalia.

El Shabab is the leading Islamic terror group in Somalia and we were told they make Al Qaeda look like a bunch of Boy Scouts. Recently they sent a suicide bomber into the middle of a Somalia medical school graduation ceremony killing all 20 new graduates and their families and professors. Somalia, the leading failed state in the world is quickly getting worse and today El Shabab controls two thirds of the country.

On the other side, is a very high barbed wire fence and the Kenyan army.

Somalians are not allowed into Kenya - or even outside the camp. We met a woman with 5 kids, no husband, and legs left lifeless by polio. We asked her questions and then when we finished she asked us one: “We have been here since 1992 – what can you do for us?” You can see her if you look at the photo of the ramshackle hut with a young boy in the doorway holding a baby. She is sitting on the ground next to the hut on the right.

Most of the photos are taken at the one of the 3 health clinics for 300,000 people.

We were surrounded by hundreds of children and adults with all kinds of problems from clefts to club foot to burns to gunshot wounds to hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus can be easily treated. It’s a problem where there is excessive fluid surrounding the brain and the head swells quite severely. Untreated it results in brain damage and then death. To reduce the swelling you have to drain the fluid which requires a special tube-like shunt that costs $20. They don’t have one. So all the children with this problem in this camp die. You’ll see them lying on the mats on the dirt. Because they don’t have a $20 tube.

We also saw a lot of children suffering with club foot. You’ll see a photo of a girl sitting on a bench with horribly twisted and deformed feet. She, and all the other children with club foot who are 12 years and under could have their legs and feet totally repaired with a miracle cure that doesn’t even require surgery, just castings, much like braces for the teeth. This “cure” costs just $80. But chances are slim that any of these children will ever receive it. $80 might as well be $800,000 in Dadaab.

As we moved around the clinic, Dr. Dan was besieged by parents begging for help for their children, waving pieces of paper in his face with his handwriting from a month ago, six months ago, a year ago, promising surgery. We didn’t need a translator to understand they were all begging for help for their children.

Poor Dr. Dan has one operating room and a waiting list of hundreds of children. Many of the children who are waiting will die before their number is called. Notice the ribs Dr. Dan is showing by pulling up the shirt of a baby with a bad cleft palate. The baby cannot feed normally because of his palate; without surgery he will die. We asked him if he will be able to operate on this child and he said he didn’t know. I think his answer is as diplomatic as our question was na├»ve.

They also took us to the “nutrition ward” where they try to save babies on the brink of starvation. As we went bed to bed, you will see the blank expressions on the faces of mothers whose babies are literally dying in their arms. The baby lying down without a mother is a 7-month-old little girl who weighs 7 pounds.

In America 7-month-old babies weigh 20 pounds. In America, childhood obesity is a major problem as is adult obesity. The #1 cause of death in America is coronary disease related to obesity. Americans are literally eating ourselves to death.

Last week First Lady Michelle Obama launched a campaign to fight childhood obesity in America. Having three young kids who eat way too much ice cream and junk food I understand how serious a problem this is. But I must admit, I was a little shocked to hear Mrs. Obama explain that America will spend $150 billion this year alone to combat obesity in America. (We will spend less than one tenth of that trying to save children and adults in developing countries from starving to death. Imagine how many lives would be saved if we swapped those two budgets and overweight Americans only received $15 billion in aid and starving children received $150 billion.)

The attached video is about 4 minutes long and it begins with a clinic we visited in Ethiopia in a place so poor, people are living on $40 a year.

People are so desperate for cleft surgery, many of them had traveled 200 to 300 kilometers to come to our clinic. I have never seen so many older folks with unrepaired clefts. I met a woman who has waited 63 years for her 45-minute cleft surgery.

You will see a 50-year-old farmer whose daughter we show the surgery of. He traveled for 5 days straight with his daughter to reach our clinic. I sat and talked with him while we operated on his daughter and he told me how he used to own livestock and land. But due to various famines over the years, they gradually had to sell off all the livestock to stay alive. And then the socialist government came and took most of their land. So now he is a poor sorghum farmer trying to keep his wife and 10 children alive. Someone asked how the current famine had affected his village and he said, “Look at my face.”

I asked him about how this surgery will change his daughter’s life and his face lit up. “Yes,” he said, “she can go to school now.” I asked him what he wanted her to be when she grew up. He answered me very slowly and deliberately, “I want her to be… in America.”

That was nice to hear from a 50-year-old Muslim man. “Look at you people,” he said. “You come all the way here, just to help me and my daughter, to help all these poor people….” He was shaking his head, smiling. I suggested maybe one day she would be in America and he would come visit her. He laughed and said, “No, it is too late for me. I am too old and I am too poor.”

Sorry I have rambled on as long as I have. Hope you watch the video. It’s nothing too fancy; pictures I took and then put together myself into a homemade video that will probably not win an Oscar. :)

Let me know what you think.

And of course, if you have any money left over from the holidays and want to make a donation - of any amount - that can help change the life of a kid who is living in Somalia or Haiti or Afghanistan or any of the 77 extremely poor and desperate countries where we work, we can always use your help. TO MAKE A DONATION CLICK HERE!

This year alone, about 160,000 new babies will be born with clefts in developing countries and most of them, because they are so poor, don’t have a prayer of ever being helped.

These kids need our help.

And we still need yours.

Thank you for reading this long rambling email.


P.S. If you are looking for a way to help Haiti with a charity you know and trust, we have bene working down there for 5+ years and have 3 partner hospitals and an orphanage that we are helping get through this nightmare. To make a donation that helps Haiti CLICK HERE."