28th June 2024  Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India  Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft-focused NGO, successfully hosted Cleft Con India 2024, the third annual gathering of cleft-affected individuals in India. Cleft Con India is an open and unbiased community platform for individuals with a cleft and their families to come together to share experiences, and learnings and inspire each other. Held in Chennai, this year’s event, with the theme “Face to Face” celebrated resilience and bold personal stories.

Participants at the third edition

One of the key highlights of the event was the presence of the actor, Ashwin Kkumar who shared his powerful story of overcoming challenges due to his cleft and building his own identity as an actor. Ashwin is a well-known Tamil and Telugu movie actor, known for his role in films like Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, Jacobinte Swargarajyam, Aaraattu, and Captain Miller. Ashwin Kkumar shared, “Being a part of Cleft Con India 2024 has been an enriching experience. As someone who has overcome the challenges of living with a cleft, sharing my story on this platform has been incredibly empowering especially as I used to be aware of Smile Train for many years as a renowned cleft community, I wanted to make it possible to be a popular talented personality and aspired to be an inspiration to my fellow cleft warriors. And this is SURREAL. I hope my journey inspires others with a cleft to embrace their uniqueness and find strength in their struggles. Together, we can build a community that celebrates resilience and supports each other through thick and thin.”

Speaking at the event, Mamta Carroll, Senior Vice President and Regional Director – Asia, Smile Train said, “Cleft Con India is an extraordinary platform for cleft-affected individuals to showcase their remarkable stories and inspire others. This year’s theme ‘Face to Face’ has brought together some inspiring individuals who have quite candidly shared their emotions and journeys with the community. Through this platform, Smile Train fosters a vibrant community where every individual feels seen, heard, and genuinely supported. I take immense pride in seeing the way this community is growing. This event has been pivotal in uniting us and highlighting the profound impact of empathy and solidarity.”

The event featured an impressive lineup of speakers, including Divvya Dnesh and Asha Dinesh, Co-founders VedaEarth Lounge and trustees Ashraya Hastha Trust, Dr. Saranya Jayakumar, Educational Psychologist, Instagram influencers Tanya Mittal and Dimple Arora, Sirat Co-founders Ashim Garg and Sakshi Kothari, Educator and Life Coach Priya Venugopal and many cleft-affected individuals who have earned their positions with hard work and determination. Unfiltered conversations and panel discussions on topics of interest highlighted the emotional, medical, and social aspects of living with a cleft, emphasizing the importance of comprehensive care, inclusivity, and acceptance.

With over 35,000 children born with clefts in India each year, many face bullying and isolation due to their facial differences. If left untreated, cleft can lead to difficulties in eating, hearing, speaking, and breathing. However, timely medical interventions can dramatically transform their lives, allowing them to thrive physically, socially, and emotionally. Smile Train works with a network of 120+ medical partner hospitals in 30 states and Union Territories in India to support 100%-free and quality cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care for children in need. The NGO continues to expand its network of medical partners, donors, and supporters via its sustainable model of cleft care.

Events like Cleft Con India are crucial in raising awareness, reducing stigma, and promoting acceptance, while also highlighting the importance of early medical intervention and continuous support for individuals affected by clefts.