Shivani Sejpal is a business manager in financial services living in London. She recently shared with us her cleft journey and how COVID-19 led her to become a fierce advocate for people with clefts and Smile Train supporter.
I was born with a cleft lip and palate to an Indian immigrant family living in London. Growing up, my parents held the belief, not uncommon in India, that my cleft had something to do with being born during an eclipse. In fact, every time there was an eclipse, my mum would ask me to perform a small, traditional ritual where I would take almonds, coal, and barley in my hands and seek blessings that future generations of my family will not be born with a cleft or any other birth difference. I carried out her wishes with respect.
When I got a little older, I decided to look further into clefts and their causes and learnt that they are caused by genetic and environmental factors that I believe have nothing to do with the shadows of the earth and the moon. I educated my mum on this, highlighting that clefts are natural and happen to people born at all times of year around the world.
Though growing up being bullied at school, knowing that I looked slightly different from the others was tough at times, I now believe that my experiences with my cleft have made me the strong and confident person I am today. Being in lockdown this year gave me unexpected time to reflect on how I can best give back to those in need now that I am privileged to be in a position where I can do that. My search led me to Smile Train.
I knew straight away they were the organisation I wanted to support when I read about their commitment to spreading not only cleft treatment, but also cleft education around the world. Because they work directly with local health providers in 70+ countries, Smile Train’s partners and staff can provide free cleft treatment to children in need while also disseminating the facts about clefts in the local dialect.
I am incredibly grateful to Smile Train for providing me with the opportunity to help spread lifesaving awareness and care to children with clefts around the world. Looking back on my own journey, if I ever have the privilege of meeting one of the children I helped in person, I know exactly what I would want to tell them: Be proud of who you are, never let anyone bring your self confidence down.
You, too, can help make lifesaving cleft treatment and cleft education possible all over the world. Donate to Smile Train now.