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Two Teenage Best Friends, One Selfless Mission: To Heal Cleft Palate Around the World

It's not rare for a baby to be born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. In fact, it happens globally about every three minutes. For the 170,000 babies with one of these conditions each year, there is a simple surgical solution to prevent future challenges with speaking, eating, and breathing—but only if their families can afford the $250 surgery.


Nandini Arakoni was one of the babies born with a cleft lip. She knows how fortunate she was that her family was able to pay for it to be repaired, and as a teenager, Nandini and her best friend Sanjana have developed a way to pay it forward. Nandini and Sanjana both come from families with jewelry makers, and the lifelong friends decided that they'd use the knowledge their relatives have to raise money to help babies around the world who are born with cleft lips or palates. Side By Side Smiles is the name the two teens gave to their organization, and they work in partnership with Smile Train, an international non-profit focused on treating and solving the problem of cleft lip and palate.

"What we do is we sell $5 handmade charm bracelets, and all of our proceeds go towards Smile Train," Nandini explains.
The silver bracelets that Side By Side Smiles produces are infused with meaning. Each piece includes a number of charms that represent elements of Nandini and Sanjana's ambitions and beliefs about their project. First, a heart charm communicates that each bracelet is "made with love," put together by hand by the teens and their friends. There's a key charm, which represents how each person can hold the key to someone else's happiness. And finally, there are charms in the shapes of feathers and arrows, two things that are light and which carries the meaning that "it's easy to make a change," says Sanjana. And even beyond the charms, Nandini points out that "the chain itself represents unity, because of the links."

So far, Nandini and Sanjana (with help from their friends and family) have made over 500 bracelets and are on their way to reaching their initial goal of raising $5,000. You can help contribute to Side By Side Smiles' long-term goal to raise $100,000 for curing children with cleft lip and palate by visiting their website Side By Side Smiles and making a purchase or a donation.

This HooplaHa original video was produced by Tracy Chevrier, shot by Elliot Rosen, and edited by Kellie Sieban. To see more inspiring news, follow us on Facebook and sign up for our Only Good News Newsletter.

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