Cycling to Spread Smiles

Smile Train

India cycling

World Environment Day on June 5 is a reminder to us that we need to be careful and respectful to nature. Every year, I participate in an event to mark this day, as I am a strong advocator of environment and want to spread awareness around it. However, as a partner surgeon of Smile Train, I decided to do something different this year. With the help of Smile Train India and Raipur Cycling Club, we organized a cycle rally in Raipur, which was attended by 200 cyclists and skaters. The crowd was young, spanning an age group of 6 to 50 years, who cycled and skated through 10 kms across the city.

We used this opportunity to create awareness about cleft lip and palate amongst the community. It is common knowledge that children born with cleft lip and palate are mocked by their peers, for their speech and appearance. Being called ‘monster face’ and ‘toad-faced’ is a daily occurrence for them. Sometimes, even after the surgery as they are still recovering, they are made fun of by their friends and classmates. Over the many years that I have been associated with Smile Train, I have met numerous patients who share similar stories of mockery because of their nose or speech.

To sensitize the young crowd about the deformity and create more acceptance, we gave away pamphlets during the rally. As this rally had a lot of children together we used the opportunity to share as much information about cleft lip and palate as possible. We explained that instead of ridiculing children for their bad speech or a bad lip, they should refer them to nearest Smile Train centre. In addition, my colleague Dr. Sunil Kalda, Senior Plastic Surgeon, a partner of Smile Train, addressed the gathering talking about impact of cleft and the work done by Smile Train in this field. Dr. Radheyshyam Chaurasia, Smile Train’s partner surgeon was also a part of the event.

Since the rally was in Raipur, we were sure that we will be able to reach out to a large community. Though I live in Raipur, I work at the partner hospital in Bilaspur, and like any other small town, it faces many challenges. Parents of children born with cleft don’t understand the necessity of treatment. We have to take special effort to educate them about the importance of repaired cleft. Most of them are relieved to know that Smile Train sponsors the treatment. It must be understood that hailing from poor backgrounds forces them to focus on earning their bread, rather than taking their children to treatment centres.

Another challenge is connectivity. We don’t have connectivity apart from the railway line that goes across the state. Hence, patients need to take buses for interstate travel. This creates hardships as it can take up to 48 hours to travel within the state

However, I have been able to find my motivation in the fact that I have seen visible difference in the perception of people with concerted efforts at our end. It may not be as progressive as other countries, however, there is a substantial improvement in the cleft scenario in India. I have also been given access to best of medical knowledge through Smile Train as I’ve attended regular conferences constant support whenever required. It has indeed been a pleasant journey.

I am passionate about spreading awareness about cleft lip and palate, and sensitizing children about the impact of the deformity. The cycle rally was just one of such events and in the future, we shall explore opportunities to hold more such events. It is exciting to be a part of Smile Train, and I hope to continue on this journey for long.

Dr.Nilesh Pagaria is Smile Train’s partner hospital for the past four years at Ladikar Hospital, Bilaspur. Dr. Pagaria is a fellow from GSR Hospital, Hyderabad and an alumnus of M.S.Ramaiah Dental College and Hospital, Bangalore. He is also a member of Raipur Cycle Club and a cycling enthusiast.

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

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