As a volunteer travelling through Myanmar one thing that catches your attention is everybody around has a smile. There is a sense of contentment and a sense of happiness wherever you go; whether it’s the janitor rushing to open the door for you or the taxi driver who had to go all over to find the address you want to be dropped at, or the vendor on the street with whom you just had a hard bargain. Everybody smiles.
But unfortunately, not everybody is lucky enough to flash that wonderful smile. It’s estimated that a child is born every 3 minutes with a cleft problem; that equals about one in every 500-750 births. And it’s the poorest in the remotest places, with their limited access to medical facilities, poor nutrition and inability to pay for medical treatment are the ones who are the most affected. Cleft causes problems in feeding, could lead to ear infections, impacts the child’s socializing skills due to stigma and may also lead to speech impairment.
When I met with KT Care foundation as part of my pro-bono volunteering program in Yangon, Myanmar I was instantly struck with the passion the staff had for the work they were doing with the local communities. Cleft lip and cleft palate was one of their most prominent programs. Reaching out to remote parts of Myanmar, they identify patients who could benefit from this treatment, some as young as 10 months old.
In order to receive this treatment patients have to travel from their villages to the capital city of Yangon (accompanied by a parent), have to undergo pre-checks from a pediatrician and then complete the post-op stay in the hospital from anywhere between 2 weeks to 2 months depending on the extent of post-operative care needed. This is a kind of treatment most patients could ill afford in a country where the average salary is around 105$ and in the rural areas much lower. Coming over to Yangon for treatment also means they are without income for the duration of their stay. The rural areas they came from in most cases do not even have proper primary health care, let alone hospitals were these surgeries could be performed. KT Care took care of all their medical expenses including transportation, stay and meal allowance for the patient and the accompanying caretaker.
The impact of these programs fully dawned on me when I visited the Shwe Baho Medical Center in Yangon to visit the patients and talk to their parents. On the day of my visit there were 8 patients ranging from 10 months – 37 years who were in different stages of post-operative care. The parents were initially a little shy but then opened up to talk about how happy they were for the support provided. It’s simply amazing to see how these 2-3 hour surgeries mostly done under local anesthesia, completely changed the way the patients looked and felt about themselves.
I had also the good fortune to meet up with Daniel Ian, the country director of World Together in Myanmar. A very compassionate gentleman with a strong drive to improve the lives of people in this country. World Together is one of the organizations supporting the cleft lip and cleft palate programs run by KT Care. KT Care supports around 120 surgeries each year.
Putting the smile back on every face is what KT Care does best. And I am glad I could join in this wonderful endeavor for a short period of time.
“We make a living by what we get, But we make a life by what we give.”
KT Care Foundation was established in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis (the worst natural disaster in the recorded history of Myanmar), KT Care Foundation provided post-disaster humanitarian assistance and has since continued to provide relief, rehabilitation, and development programs for vulnerable communities. If you would like to know more, go to www.ktcare.org or follow them on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ktcarefoundation/