After saying farewell to an amazing 6 weeks in South East Asia, we landed in India with a literal and metaphorical bump! Mumbai, India’s second largest city, is an assault on the senses to even the hardiest of travellers. It’s a little like taking a cold shower in winter: painful, but an effective way, quite literally, to wake you up.

Landing amidst a sea of slum houses surrounding the airport gave us our first glimpse of a city of two faces: Mumbai-the-rich home to the most expensive building in India; and Mumbai-the-poor home to the countries biggest slum. Luxury and squalor side by side.

mumbai slum airport

Airport Slum via Flickr by Terry Feuerborn

After our brusque wake up call, the highlight of Mumbai for us was spending the day at Smile Train’s Out Patient Department at Godrej Memorial Hospital in the east of the city. We were invited to sit in on Dr Bharti’s morning screening session at the hospital. She has  been tirelessly working for Smile Train for 15 years and deserves much, much credit her care and skill, not least because she is one of only a handful of women doctors working on cleft surgeries for the charity.

Patient after patient came into the doctors office either to be assessed following surgery, or to have pre-op checks. Most were young children, some new borns and we even saw a couple of adults who had, until recently, been unaware their treatment was possible, let alone that it could be paid for by Smile Train funds. All with renewed hope for the future.

Mack, 6 month. Operated one week back

Mack, 6 month. Operated one week back

There were three stand-out cases for me for different reasons. Firstly there was a little boy who’d traveled for three hours on the bus with his dad for a post-op check up. He looked great but would need speech therapy sessions from now on. I asked if his father would bring him back each time for the sessions, but the 350 rupees (£3.50) cost was too much. This is a common situation many families faces. Smile train always try to provide transport subsidies in these cases or find support closer to home.

Thakur sisters

Thakur sisters

Then there was a little baby whose name I never caught who was brought in by a social worker. She’d been abandoned at birth because of her cleft lip. Stigma attached to facial deformities like cleft lips is high in India, especially among girls whose parents fear they will struggle to find a husband which causes more financial burden to the family. The team told us that just recently a Spanish couple had just adopted one of the orphans Dr Bharti operated on. There was hope for this baby too.

Last but not least, the most surprising and smiley group of girls we met that day were the Thakur sisters, all 5 of whom had been born with cleft lips. Their mother was unaffected but their aunt was also born with the disfigurement. Dr Bharti had treated each and ever one of them and they were back for speech therapy classes.

It was an eye opening day and were really pleased to have put £420 towards this great organisation, enough to cover almost three more operations!

Check out Smile Train at: www.smiletrain.org

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