Rotary brings smiles to Bangladeshi kids

BENDIGO’S Rotary clubs are helping change the lives of children in Bangladesh.

Operation Cleft chairman Michael Kirk was in Bendigo this week to talk about the 7500 cleft lip and cleft palette operations Rotary clubs across Australia had funded since October 2005.

He said the Bendigo community had paid for 194 surgeries. 

“Operation Cleft is a project of my Rotary club – which is the Rotary Club of Box Hill Central in Melbourne – which endeavours to repair cleft lips and cleft palettes in children in Bangladesh,” Mr Kirk said.

“Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world and in Bangladesh, it’s not seen as a life-threatening situation.

“The government can’t afford to do anything more than look after life-threatening operations.

“But we actually see cleft palettes as life-threatening for the children who’ve got them.”

Mr Kirk said the problem could lead to malnourishment because babies had trouble breastfeeding.

He said cleft lips and palettes also carried a stigma and people were often shunned in their communities.

“There are roughly 300-odd thousand people in Bangladesh with unrepaired cleft palettes and cleft lips,” he said.

If a child looked different and couldn’t speak properly, they often had trouble getting along with others of the same age, Mr Kirk said.

“Frequently, the mothers are blamed because they’ve produced a child that is not perfect and sometimes they can be literally thrown and kicked out of their houses and forced to beg.

“Now, you’re begging in a country where the average daily wage is roughly $1, the chances of the mother doing too well is not good and the child is almost certainly going to be impoverished.

“They’re hidden away in their homes, other children won’t play with them, they’re damaged goods for life unless we can do something about it.”

Operation Cleft employs a team of Bangladeshi plastic surgeons to perform the operations and also has surgical training outreach programs at hospitals.

Mr Kirk spoke to the Rotary Club of Kangaroo Flat and the Rotary Club of Bendigo Strathdale earlier this week.

“Operation Cleft gives these children a chance at life,” he said.

To find out more or to donate money to the project, visit www.operationcleft.org.au

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