David Grier runs the world to mobilise funds for Operation Smile and transform the lives of children
Nurses turn teary-eyed when they look at the children who have been saved from a fate of spending a lifetime in shame. A simple 45-minute procedure has rid these children of difficulties caused by cleft lips, cleft palates and facial tumours. The heart-tugging images in this Operation Smile video are accompanied by Celion Dion's ‘A New Day Has Come'.
Turning away from the video and facing a room full of media-persons, 52-year-old David Grier says, “Now you know why we put ourselves through what we do”. Earlier in the evening, Grier had played videos of the arduous runs he has undertaken across countries — including the just-concluded trip on foot from Kashmir to Kanyakumari — to raise funds for Operation Smile.
Grier encourages adventure-seekers to leverage social causes through what they do for fun. “If you are climbing the Everest, don't do it just for yourself. Let the climb support someone who needs a helping hand,” explains the South African.
Grier's own life proves this model of social service works. A chef by profession, he was getting dangerously obese due to constant food-tasting and a sedentary lifestyle. “When I was only 30 years old, I weighed an alarming 110 kg. In addition to being overweight, I was an asthmatic from birth,” says Grier, and adds that he took up running to slough off those excess kilos.
He enjoyed running and integrated it into his lifestyle; however, many years passed before he realised his running can help others too. A meeting with Natalie Miller of Operation Smile (South Africa) won him over to her cause — he decided to run mind-boggling distances to draw attention to it. He was not deterred by the fact that he was a 44-year-old and an asthmatic — Grier's runs are also aimed at creating awareness about proper asthma care.
Through the six-year-old ‘Miles For Smiles Foundation' (milesforsmiles.co.za) — a Cipla initiative that supports the various programmes undertaken by Operation Smile — Grier and his runners have done many runs, including one across the entire stretch of the Great Wall of China (2006) and another along the South African coastline (2008).
Every run of this nature poses unexpected challenges, and the one across India gave Grier surprises at each step of the way. “In India, every province is like a new country, vastly different in topography and climate,” explains the adventure-runner. Air pollution in Ludhiana forced him to use his inhaler (for asthma control) more often than he usually does. The run through Rajasthan contrasted sharply with the one across Punjab. The clean, dry desert of Rajasthan was a welcome respite.
When he did the southern stretch, the heat got to him and the last 700 kilometers were torturous. “But for the support of my team members, I would not have made it through this ordeal,” admits Grier. “The hospitality of Indians also made up for the discomforts. A Westerner sees his home as his domain and it's off-limits for strangers. Not so for Indians. Everywhere we went, people wanted us to stay with them and share their food. For over hundred nights, we pitched tents and camped in the open — we did not come to any harm.”
This bonhomie went a long way in assuaging Grier's loneliness. “When I am way from my family — which includes four children — for long, I miss them terribly. Except for seven-year-old Jade, my youngest, all the children understand that this sacrifice is worth it. Jade is too young to understand why I often go away for months,” says Grier, who makes attempts at giving the little girl an idea of what he is doing. During an earlier run, he took Jade to a hospital in Madagascar where she watched a corrective procedure being performed on a child with a cleft lip. While in India, he arranged for her to meet him at Mumbai. “I can't wait to meet my family,” says Grier.
(For details and donations to Operation Smile log in to operationsmileindia.org)