CHICAGO (CBS) — Nandini Arakoni, 15, is a Freshman at Metea Valley High School. She was born with a cleft lip but says she was lucky to get it fixed with only a small scar.
“I’m pretty fortunate I grew up in America, where it’s really easy to get surgery and it gets fixed quickly. But this year got me thinking about how lucky I am, and not a lot of people get that opportunity, and I really wanted to do something to give back,” she said.
So Arakoni and her friend Sanjana Gangadharan, 15, a Freshman at Nequa Valley High School, began a charity called Side By Side Smiles. They make charm bracelets for the cause.
“Each bracelet has six charms. One of the charms is a “made with love” heart that represents how we want to spread love and kindness about our cause. We have a key that represents how everyone holds the key to a child’s happiness, and we also have a fellow arrow, and that shows, because arrows are light and graceful, it’s easy to make a change — you just have to start somewhere,” said Gangadharan.
Each bracelet is $5 and in just two months, they’ve raised $1,500 for the international children’s charity Smile Train, which helps those born with cleft lips and palates.
“It’s really amazing. We were so happy to be able to make a difference. We’ve had a lot of support from our family and friends. We’ve received donations without even purchasing the bracelets. We hope to continue and to raise even more money,” said Arakoni.
“The majority of children born with cleft lips or pallets are from Middle Eastern and African countries. It’s relatively common but the good thing about it, it’s easily fixable. But the problem is people don’t have access to the money or resources to do this,” said Gangadharan.
They launched their website on January 6th and hope to soon offer the bracelets online.
“We went into this with low expectations, but the hard work has definitely paid off. It’s been rewarding.” she said.
Every three minutes, a child is born with either a cleft lip or palate. While both of these conditions are not life threatening, both can cause speech impairments, trouble with teeth, and breathing problems. This is detrimental to a child’s development as well as later life. A cleft lip is defined as an opening or split in the lip, and a cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth, which is cause by developmental issues. Although cleft lips and palates can have a major impact, a few surgeries in a child’s early life can help solve the issue.