"Ranjeet limped to his doorway, waving goodbye to us and beaming an enormous smile. Grasping his pinky and walking alongside him was his little boy, Pradeep. My eyes traveled down one last time to their feet. Ranjeet stood painfully on the sides of his feet, which were turned inwards—a result of neglected clubfoot. His son’s feet were perfectly normal, and he could move around effortlessly. What was incredible about this scene is that when Pradeep had been born, less than two years previous, his feet looked exactly like his father’s.
As a documentary filmmaker, I had come to Mumbai to get some footage of a new miraclefeet-supported clinic at the Wadia children’s hospital, where I met Ranjeet and his family. His son was recieving free treatment at the clinic. Ranjeet graciously allowed me to capture his story (which you can see here: http://vimeo.com/86618225).
The experience of spending time with Ranjeet exemplified why I have been so honored to work with miraclefeet, visiting their partner clinics in India, South Africa, and Brazil. It is easy to be impressed by the numbers around clubfoot—that it affects 1 in 750 children, and that miraclefeet can fully treat a child for $250. But when you actually get to spend a whole day with a family, it really drives home the impact of the treatment on each individual child, and by extension, their families and communities.
It was extraordinary to me how happy Ranjeet was, especially given how much hardship he had endured. He related stories of being endlessly excluded as a youth, and the extreme challenge of getting some one to hire him for even the most menial jobs. He now worked long and dangerous hours alongside his father as an itinerant construction worker, setting up temporary homes in hi-rises as they were being built. I sat with the family in the single room where they cooked, ate, and slept, and little Pradeep gladly demonstrated what his father had told me in the interview—that he is incredibly active. He was spinning around, laughing, playing games with everybody. Children from other families in the building came by to play with him, but his biggest fan was clearly his big sister. There was such a palpable sense of hope in this dark cramped room. Grandma and Grandpa, mom and dad, knew all too well what fate Pradeep had escaped by getting treatment for his clubfoot.
I encountered many such remarkable stories in the India clinics, like the mother whose in-laws beat her for giving birth to a “cursed” child—she left her husband’s home (quite unthinkable in traditional circles) in order to get treatment for her child. I met a grandmother who has taken it upon herself to come to the clinic where her grand-daughter was treated to counsel other parents in the importance of treatment. Everywhere I looked, there was such a deep sense of gratitude in the eyes of the parents.
Not only did I meet many families, but I also got to know the counselors, whose job it is to explain the treatment, answer questions, and follow-up with families over the years-long bracing phase of treatment. This is instrumental in preventing relapse, not just because counselors catch families who fall through the cracks, but because this relationship empowers families with information and involves them in the process. I’ve spent a lot of time now in the chaotic environment of public hospitals in India, and I can only imagine how overwhelming it must be for a poverty-stricken family coming in, perhaps for the first time. The emphasis on the counselor program deeply humanizes the process, and watching counselors interacting warmly with the families, treating them as partners in care (in what is often a highly stratified society), was a profoundly moving experience.
I came away with a much better understanding of how well the clinics are run, how the diagnoses, casting, and bracing work. It’s an incredible system. But what will stick with me most is that image of Ranjeet standing in his doorway, smiling. That’s the reason why I do what I do, and why I’m grateful to work with miraclefeet.”
Jake Wachtel is a freelance filmmaker specializing in work for non-profits and educational institutions. Learn more at www.jakewachtelmedia.com