Being born with a cleft has nothing to do with your social standing, for I was born this birth difference in a privileged family. Despite this, I remember numerous instances where I heard people speculating about the cleft being the result of superstitious beliefs. Luckily, I underwent my first surgery at the age of six months, and subsequent isolated health interventions such as a rhinoplasty by the time I was 16. As there was very little awareness at the time about holistic cleft care, my parents went ahead with the healthcare as advised and there was no one to give them the guidance required to address all the aspects of cleft care - such as orthodontics, speech therapy and counselling. Thus, despite having received treatment at an early age, I grew up as a child conscious of the fact that I looked different from the other children. It has taken me many years since to feel truly comfortable in my skin and be able to talk about clefts openly, and in a matter of fact manner. I succeeded in shaking off the veil of self-consciousness, pursued my dreams and have been a practicing lawyer for over 8 years now.
My professional work has brought me immense happiness but it was my desire to come full circle that led me to help others needing cleft care. That’s when I came across Smile Train and was immediately drawn to the kind of work done by them. I was fascinated by the magnitude of the work they have done and the success achieved not only in India but around the world with children and adults alike, needing cleft care. I happened to see Smile Train India’s office in Delhi, and their website too, and the more I saw - the more I felt connected to their cause of bringing smiles to all the children born with clefts, in India and across the globe. My first thought was to start volunteering for them, but due to the restrictions with the ongoing pandemic and current professional commitments, this didn’t materialize as I had hoped for. So, I thought of an alternative. I told myself that until I can actively work with Smile Train as a volunteer, I will sell my art and donate a percentage of the sales towards their sustainable, free of cost and comprehensive cleft care model. This is just a small way in which I have brought myself closer to the cause I truly believe in and hope to support in the years to come.
Since I started my art sale, I’ve been flooded with messages of support and queries about Smile Train, as many people have no idea that an organization that supports free cleft care exists. This has made me realize that awareness about clefts is still very low in India and is connected to a plethora of other problems, such as lack of access to information and affordable treatment, children with clefts not receiving timely interventions to help them with issues like difficulty in eating, breathing and speaking, social ostracization, bullying and so on.
Children born with clefts shouldn’t have to endure difficulties that keep them from enjoying a carefree childhood. Their parents shouldn’t have to run from pillar to post seeking treatment by shooting arrows in the dark and hoping that it works. There’s no reason for people to think that those born with clefts are not normal, and ascribe this birth difference to superstitious causes. That is the motivation behind my initiative to spread the word about Smile Train.
I want everyone to know that clefts are treatable, and every step of undergoing cleft treatment is made easier if you have someone hand-holding and supporting you all the way - and Smile Train does precisely that. But most of all, I want the world to understand that there is no shame in asking for help, for every person is defined by the set of qualities they possess and the differentiating factor never has to be a cleft.
As shared by former cleft patient and Smile Train supporter, Nupur Kumar, Advocate - Supreme Court of India, during the National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month (NCCAPM) 2020.
Nupur is an independent law practitioner with extensive experience across civil, criminal, corporate and constitutional cases and numerous pro bono projects to her credit. As an artist, she donates 30% from the sale of her artwork to Smile Train.