An edited version of this article appeared in the October Issue of Newsline Magazine
I first met Salma, at a School turned relief camp in Hyderabad. We were there to distribute ration and Eed festives for children a day before Eed. The thought of kids smiling at the sight of new clothes,shoes and bangles had been keeping us restless for days, until we finally began distribution.
The Government School in Hyderabad, is a small building with only 6 small rooms and a relatively large porch. Our escort, the highway police, informed us that over 140 families belonging to Jaffarabad, had been living here for the past month. Most of the people living in School camps or at their relatives are forced to live in horrendous conditions, at times making life in open tents appear better. Some of these buildings lack sanitation, have poor ventilations and are hogged by families making it even more congested. But it does not take too long for one to understand why these people would opt to live in congested buildings rather than tents,as we entered the school building it began to pour really hard, if there is one thing they don’t need to worry about it is shelter.
We entered in to a dimly lit room,crammed with women,children,and swarming flies. Children had lined up against the walls anxious as we unpacked clothes and began to distribute one by one- trying to get an appropriate size for each. Most of them were extremely eager,coming forth and beaming confidently as soon as we took out a dress that would match their size. It is here that I first came across Salma. She was fidgety, and as I handed over her clothes to her she immediately ran back and hid behind her mother.
Salma is 7 years old, she suffer from a condition called Cleft Palate.Cleft palate is a birth defect that affects the upper lip and roof of the mouth. This happen when the tissue that forms the roof of the mouth and upper lip don’t join before birth. The problem can range from a small notch in the lip to a groove that runs into the roof of the mouth and nose. Apart from physical deformity Cleft palate also causes grave issues with eating, talking and at times can lead to severe ear infections and lung infections. Additionally, since these children do not have a hard palate, they are not able to suck, leading to an increased number of deaths in infancy.
Fortunately, Salma had survived the ordeal as a child because she was not breastfed. But the misery of these children doesn’t end here, the deformity can lead to other, more serious and fatal medical problems. The only solution is a hard palate, and lip reconstruction. Even though, providing such specialized medical assistance was not part of our relief efforts my concern for Salma’s future motivated me to go beyond the usual relief efforts. Afterall, she would probably never have access to an expert in cleft palate surgery, ever in her life.
Before we left the camps that day, I asked her mother if she would agree to a surgery if one could arrange for it, she said she was more than eager and that it would change her daughter’s life forever. Within a few days, we were able to find a surgeon, Dr. Ashraf Ganatra, Project Director of Smile Train, a non-governmental organization of USA involved in helping patients of cleft lip and cleft palate in the world, who is not only an expert but also carried out the surgical procedure free of cost. Salma, is now back to her village in Jaffarabad, after a successful Hard Palate Surgery, her lip reconstruction, is due after 6 months and her family promises to bring her back to karachi for the procedure.
There must be so many others like Salma, waiting for us to reach out and to go beyond the ritual ration and shelter relief. This is perhaps our only time to reach out and connect with our people, to help them with their problems big or small and to empower them.
I can never forget the day when I first saw her, the tears of joy in her mother’s face and the bond we shared during the three days while Salma was hospitalized. And as she puts it, the flood had turned into a blessing for her, a miracle that changed her daughter’s life forever.