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News & Event

Rescued Smiles, Rescued Lives

March 07, 2007
March 2007 / Bali Advertiser

By Ibu Kat

There's a shadow behind the bright smiles of bali's children.

For about every 600 live births in Indonesia, one baby will be born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. The cause isn't known, but malnutrition and lack of folic acid in the mother's diet may be factors. Some deformities, like a simple cleft lip, are cosmetic and easy to repair. Cleft palate, where the bone at the top of the mouth has failed to close, is more serious as it involves the teeth, bones, hearing and ability to speak. Babies with this deformity can't feed properly and are in danger of aspirating milk and food into their lungs through cleft.

Without surgery, most of these children will never grow up to lead normal lives. The dramatic before and after pictures of children who have had their deformities repaired tell poignant stories of rescued lives.

Over 2,000 children from Bali and Lombok have had their smiles rescued, but there are thousands more in the shadows.

The John Fawcett Foundation has repaired about 1500 facial deformities in Bali and Lombok and continues to treat cases as they are encountered. The Rotary Club Nusa Dua started a Cleft Lip and Palate Project in 1994, working with John Fawcett and financing about 350 operations until 1997. From 1998 to present the Club has solely financed about 526 operations, and by the end of this year will have provided 1 billion rupiah to the project.

Now there is a Bali-based organization dedicated to the treatment of craniofacial deformities. Yayasan Senyum (Smile) Bali was established in 2005 to serve as a bridge between Sanglah Hospital, the regional public hospital and the Australian Cranio-facial Institute in Adelaide. The Institute is headed by Dr. David J David, who has worked for over 20 years in Indonesia and established cleft centres in Jakarta and Surabaya. The goal is to open such a centre in Bali which will also serve Lombok. Dr. David and his anaesthetist and nurse travel to Indonesia twice a year to hold clinics, perform the life-changing surgery and train local hospital staff in special procedures such as nasendoscopy.

Dr. A.A. Asmarajaya, trained by Dr. David, is the only plastic surgeon in Bali and is Head of Surgery at Sanglah Hospital. This kind man performs the surgeries, with Rotary Club Nusa Dua and other donors covering the nursing, medicine and other associated costs. Although a cleft lip is more unsightly, it is the easiest to repair and can usually be done when the baby is six months old. Cleft palate is much more serious, and because it's not so visible the condition is often neglected. Cleft lip and palate operations performed in Bali cost between US$ 150 and $400.

Senyum Bali is headed by Mary Northmore-Aziz, an Indonesian citizen who has been working with people with cranio-facial deformities in Bali for over ten years. She is the inspiration behind the Smile Shop in Ubud, Bali's first thrift shop, and the Smile House, which offers safe pre and post operative accommodation and food to surgery patients and their families.

Smile House, located near Sanglah Hospital, was made possible by a grant from a generous Singaporean donor whose gift covered the contract for two and purchased the furniture. The clean and cheerful residence is managed by Rusmini, whose own severe facial deformity was repaired recently in Adelaide. She cooks, cleans and provides comfort and reassurance to the patients' families. She and Oki, the Senyum Bali coordinator, are funded by the Smile Shop in Ubud. Sue Frost, another full time member of the team, is funded through the Australian government AVI programme. She sets up and maintains databases, patient records and publicity material and assists in clinics and patient care.

Complicated cases must be sent to Australia and there are currently seven patients in urgent need of treatment in Adelaide. This treatment is free, courtesy of the Government of South Australia, but patients are asked to contribute A$1000 towards their costs, and A$1500 more is needed for each patient to support associated costs such as passports, flights, etc. These patients will require extensive surgery and treatment for cranio-facial, orthodontal, hearing and speech conditions.

The Smile Shop in Ubud, opened in December 2006, has proved a popular fund-raising arm for the Yayasan. Businesses and individuals donate high-quality new and lightly used stock which is snapped up by the local community. In the 48 days it has been open, the shop raised 32 million rupiah. Volunteers currently keep the shop open three days a week; additional volunteers will enable the shop to open more often. Please call Peta at 0361 7857366 if you're willing to commit to a 4 hour shift each week. The shop is always in need of stock, so please drop by with good-as-new clothes, towels, sheets, DVDs, children's books in Indonesian and other articles.

Generous donations in cash and kind from BIWA, the British Community Committee in Jakarta, Maspion, Tropical Living and the Australian Consulate General have helped support Senyum Bali to date. Mary's wish list now includes the salary for an Indonesian social worker who can counsel the families during the often-frightening process of travelling to the city, negotiating the complex bureaucracy of the hospital and dealing with the surgery. She's also searching for funds to send the seven urgent cases to Adelaide.

It doesn't take a lot of money to bring a child with a cranio-facial deformity out of the shadows. Check out the following websites for truly inspiring documentary evidence of how a single inexpensive surgery can change a life.

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