A Weekend with our STARS

Smile Train

Cleft India

“Excellence in everything” has been the credo of Smile Train since the start; this applies not just to how the organization is run but also how cleft patients are treated. ‘Safety’ and ‘Quality’ – and continual improvement of both has been as much a part of Smile Train’s agenda as providing free surgeries to as many children born with clefts as possible. Few medical charities have consciously invested as much time and effort on Continuing Medical Education to raise the Craft of Surgery and the recent STARS Conference – sixth to date – was one of Smile Train’s several initiatives.

I couldn’t help but think of the first one at The President in Mumbai in the first week of March 2004. The idea was simple: bring the best together and provide them an opportunity to share experiences, present innovations and discuss issues and concerns to learn from each other. Nearly 60 doctors participated and the Event was coordinated by Dr Court Cutting, who at the end of the Conference confided, “This was the best cleft conference I’ve ever been to, anywhere”.

Over the years, the STARS Conference has grown, matured and become the capstone of all Smile Train sponsored training events. The one in Chennai had over 200 participating doctors. The venue was grander, the technology state-of-art and there were more bells and whistles …. but the spirit remained the same: “How can we deliver safer and better outcomes to our cleft patients”. With more than half a million cleft surgeries under their collective belts and a shared passion for what they do, the participants were unstoppable!

But as Smile Train’s Founder Chairman Charles Wang reminded them in a personally delivered closing address (for which he had specially flown to Chennai), “Never forget the focus of everything you do is the cleft child’; he or she is the very reason for our existence and every bit of learning you take back from here must benefit him or her”.

Among the many invited overseas speakers was Dr. Larry Hollier – an eminent plastic surgeon from USA and Chair of Smile Train’s Medical Advisory Board – for whom this was the second STARS Conference. Before leaving he said to me, “This was the best cleft Conference……”

Some things never change!


Mr. Satish Kalra is Chief Programs Officer for Smile Train and has been associated with the organization since it started working in India. Under his leadership, Smile Train India has been able to provide free cleft corrective surgeries to over 4,50,000 children. In his words,“There is something inherently addictive about working with kids, watching their lives being transformed; their faces light up with smiles that make you want to carry on.”

* The views expressed are those of the author. They may or may not reflect Smile Train's position.

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