The school’s Health Occupations Students of America club raised $500 at a Thursday event. About 250 students paid to attend a pizza party and screening of the 2008 Academy Award-winning short documentary “Smile Pinki,” which tells the story of children in a community in India who suffer from cleft lip and palate, a condition that forms when a developing child’s lip and mouth fail to fuse properly while in the womb.
The students also heard from Priscilla Ma, the executive director of Smile Train, a New York-based charity that produced the film and raises money to provide doctors to perform surgery for kids in developing countries who suffer from cleft lip or palate. The surgeries cost about $250 each.
“You are going to be giving two children a new smile and a second chance at life,” Ma said.
The HOSA students hope to help even more children when they host a 5-kilometer run on May 11 that will start and end at the east Cobb school.
Wheeler senior Kevin Pluckter, president of the HOSA club, said the students were looking for a health-related cause to assist this year after raising money for cancer research in past years.
“In First World countries, cleft palate can be addressed quicker,” Pluckter, 17, said. “In Third World countries, people don’t have the money to do it. They don’t have the welfare (system) to do it, and, on top of that, they have superstitions.”
While Smile Train is able to fund 120,000 surgeries a year, Ma said they still have a backlog of more than a million children looking for help. She said the film’s story of then-6-year-old Indian girl Pinki Sonkar is designed to help call more people to action.
“She was teased and tormented by other children,” Ma said. “They made their way on foot and traveled several hundred kilometers to get to the hospital.”
Since her 45-minute surgery, Pinki has developed into a 12-year-old who wants someday to be a community leader, Ma said.
“She’s a very confident little girl now,” she said.
Sharon Hunt, Wheeler HOSA sponsor and health care science teacher, said she was proud of the work the 80 club members did in putting together the fundraiser. She was also excited that Ma came to the school.
Seeing what children with cleft lip and palate go through can also teach kids a lesson, she said.
“One of the really impactful things is they see the devastating impact society can have on any child born with a physical deformity,” she said. “We’re showing them how this affects children, so they’ll be a little more sensitive.”