On average, 35,000 to 40,000 cleft children are born each year in India. According to local cleft and craniofacial surgeons, that is not how many children are operated on annually. Santhosh Mathews, co-founder of Love Without Reason, roamed the streets of Bengaluru in the early years of his life. Over three decades, he only remembers meeting one child born with a cleft and having developmental delays. Where are the children? The work of Love Without Reason and the emphasis and value on these children's lives is essential now, more than ever.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in 2018, around the globe, five were adult women
for every ten trafficking victims, and two were minor girls. One-third of all victims are boys
and girls, and 20 percent are adult men. According to the report, the most common form of human
trafficking is sexual exploitation - an unprecedented 79 percent of trafficking cases.
In Mumbai, India, Love Without Reason began the initiative called Project Butterfly. Women in the red-light areas are empowered with education and business skills that will break a cycle of slavery in the generations. This initiative is reproducible, and the model will be expanded on a global scale.
Traditionally, the newborn baby would be given a name by her grandparents. When a little girl
was born to farming parents in a rural village outside of Bengaluru, India, this tradition was
not followed. Her grandfather saw the cleft lip and refused to give the child a name. Many of
the family members followed suit and rejected the child.
In many cultures, the social stigma associated with a facial difference is traumatizing because of the lack of understanding and knowledge. Society's fear causes horrible reactions that leave these innocent children ostracized and humiliated.
Disregarding their own community's social norms, the tiny baby's parents held on to their daughter and loved her. They began to search for any way to understand what had happened and to find help for her.
After many months, the family was introduced to Love Without Reason founder Santhosh Mathews. The parents felt hope as he explained the simple surgical procedure to the family, especially the grandfather. Santhosh shared his own son's success story. Still, everything they heard seemed unimaginable for this family as they had never seen a surgery like this.
When the parents met with the surgical team in Bengaluru and prepared for their daughter's cleft lip surgery, they held onto hope. They could only trust that their little girl would be okay, and this would help.
The whole family went to the hospital to see her when this beautiful little girl was ready to come home. As Santhosh greeted the family in the ward, the grandfather turned to him with tears in his eyes. "We didn't know how beautiful she would be. We couldn't see her in the way that you saw her.”
That day this little girl's grandfather finally gave her a name. "She is so beautiful, and we will call her by the name Amulya.” Amulya means precious.
In a village on Bengaluru's outskirts, a woman named Rizwana found herself in labor alone as her
husband couldn't take off from his job. She was eager to hold her firstborn child. The moment
that Rizwana looked down into her newborn son's little face, eagerness turned into loathing.
This could not be her son.
Rizwana could not control her emotions. She was angry. She was in pain. She angrily asked God, "Why am I going through this pain? What wrong did my innocent baby do to deserve a face like this? " Baby Rehan was born with a bilateral cleft lip. Rizwana had never seen a child with a cleft and was dismayed. These questions tormented her for days. She felt hopeless and helpless and alone without her husband, Sher Ali Khan. People asked her questions, and she had no answers.
She felt like a failure, a failure to everyone. When Sher Ali Khan was finally able to see his new son, he struggled to comfort Rizwana. He felt, "As a father, all my dreams and hopes for my child were shattered when I saw his face."
The parents began to research the bilateral cleft lip. Relief swept over them as they learned that Rehan could be helped through surgery. Rizwana cradled her little son with love and dreamed of the day he could have surgery. The family understood that affording the needed surgery to repair their baby's cleft lip was probably impossible. This didn't stop them. They started to save from their daily wage jobs for Rehan's surgery. Even her grandmother contributed to the funds from her cigarette-making job. Despite their struggle, they felt discouraged and wondered if they could ever afford surgery to repair their baby's face.
Finally, someone told them about Love Without Reason and the free surgical care that baby Rehan could receive in Bengaluru . The family used their meager savings to travel to the city and meet with the chief craniofacial surgeon, Dr. Sathish. Overjoyed, Rehan was cleared for surgery, and the date was set.
Sher Ali Khan could not hide his anxiety, but he also held on to his son's dreams as Rehan was admitted for surgery. Rizwana and Sher Ali Khan entered the recovery room after a successful repair and were handed their little Rehan. Both parents were shocked again! The tears and the delight on their faces were genuine and heartfelt.
"Thank you, Love Without Reason, and Dr. Sathish, for our miracle. I could not even have imagined my Rehan would be like this. You saved our family when there was no one to help us."
Hazira and Riyaz have lived in Bangalore all their lives. They are the proud parents of their 20
year-old son, Khurnium. Khurnium and his father Riyaz both work as taxi drivers - known as auto
rickshaw drivers in India.
Khurnium grew up alone in the house, he always wanted siblings. He watched as his mother went through six miscarriages over a span of twenty years of his life. He saw her grief and sorrow over each pregnancy loss. She desperately wanted to have another child, but due to her diabetes, she had miscarriages.
In 2019, when she thought all hope was lost, she became pregnant with another son. The family was overjoyed. Due to previous miscarriages, the obstetrician was more cautious and diligent to do all to protect the baby’s life. With the many tests and ultrasounds, the family was advised that their baby would have a cleft lip. However, nothing could take away their joy to have this child in their life. Due to Hazira’s health issues, baby Mounnadin was born four weeks early. He had many breathing issues and remained in NICU for two weeks. He was finally released home, but the parents struggled in thinking about the cleft lip repair. How could they afford the surgery? They spent all that they had for Mounnadin’s delivery and hospitalization.
Miraculously, the intensivists at Aster CMI hospital, a partnering hospital of Love Without Reason, introduced the parents to the Love Without Reason family. At the right time, Mounnadin had successful cleft lip repair, and the family rejoiced with chief craniomaxillofacial surgeon, Dr Sathish. Hazira said, “We cannot stop saying thanks to Dr. Sathish. He shared with us about Love WIthout Reason, and we are so thankful for the free surgery provided for our son. If we see any children with cleft lip or palate, we will be sure to introduce them to Love Without Reason.”
Khurnium too is overjoyed. “I can't wait to teach him how to drive, he grinned. There is so much joy in our house now. My mother will stop crying now, and our family will do everything to take care of our Mounnadin.”
On her first visit to the red-light areas of Mumbai, Susan Mathews, co-founder of Love Without
Reason, walked through the streets of Kamathipura. Though she would return many times, she could
not shake the lessons learned that day. It continues to remind her that though evil exists, the
effort of the good matters. No matter how big or small, our impact together is needed to
Susan, walking with her team, felt the atmosphere pressing around them like a heavy blanket weighing down on them. It was as if all hope was suffocated by the surrounding sense of doom and oppression.
In the middle of that darkness, she was startled to see beautiful colorful children's dresses hanging on clothing lines outside of the small street-side shops. Susan wondered why these frilly and lacy dresses would be sold at night on the street while no other children's shops were open.
That first trip was soon filled with Susan listening and learning as women shared story after story. And then she understood the truth behind the hanging dresses. They were really the beginning of the next cycle of slavery, continued with every child's birth in the red-light district.
Women and children sold into sex trafficking networks will inevitably become pregnant. In fact, most "pimps" encourage women to become pregnant. Pimps prey on the natural desire that they see for a mother to do anything to protect and feed her child. Exploiting this maternal instinct makes their job easier and more profitable. Suddenly, innocent children become collateral that can be threatened with harm if the women hinder the business of the sex trade.
Susan vividly describes her experience walking through apartment-like structures where the women were housed. She was alarmed to see little children under the bed sleeping on the floor. Susan quickly learned from the host that this was also where the mothers "worked."
To protect their children and make sure they slept, the mothers would give their children drugs. In some cases, children have been raped by the customer. With the drugs, the children were hidden and quiet.
Susan learned more and more as she saw the rampant lack of respect for life. Each visit inspires her of the critical need for Love Without Reason. Their work creating awareness and providing education is a vital part of human trafficking prevention. Through Project Butterfly, Susan sees her work in red-light areas in Mumbai as taking down a little dress and breaking the cycle of slavery. No longer do mothers live with no options. Project Butterfly education and recovery initiatives start with leadership, literacy, and building self-confidence. Women experience sustainable recovery. Through microloans and learning new business skills, they begin to provide for their children.
“Where are his parents?” Susan said this was the first thing that popped into her mind. She had
spotted a young man running from car to car in the middle of Mumbai's heavy traffic. Susan got a
closer look and realized that he was young enough that he should be in school on this busy
weekday. But here he was balancing toys, keychains, and souvenirs in his two hands, no parents
in sight, and doing his best to reach as many cars as fast as his little legs could go.
As a mother herself, Susan began to search for a parent. She couldn't imagine how this little child was possibly safe! How was it even possible that this was allowed on a busy city street?
Susan's hosts pulled up to this little man and found themselves his newest potential customers. Everyone's heart melted as his beautiful little face popped into the frame of the car window. He urgently pressed his merchandise forward with his hand, knowing his time to sell them was limited and wanting to reach the other cars. As their eyes met he motioned for Susan to buy his products. The Love Without Reason passengers could not take their eyes off this handsome little fellow. Susan’s first impulse was Let’s just give him some money? If only the solution was that simple.
Expressing her overwhelming desire to make sure she could get him off the dangerous streets and back into school, she asked the team, “Why can’t we give him money?” The hosts in Mumbai understood how everyone felt. They laid out the shocking reality that these children's lives couldn't escape by money. They explained how entrenched human traffickers and pimps had become in enslaving the children who subsisted on the street. Susan's heart sank as she learned that the parent she was looking for on the road earlier did not exist. Human traffickers and pimps claim these "runaway children'' in the court system by posing to be the parents. Abruptly a child's entire future is altered. Suddenly, they are no longer children. A slave for the "parent," these children are forced into hawking trinkets on the street. The consequence for not selling? Or missing money? Severe punishment.
Susan's question changed from, "Where is the parent to what happens if these children remain on the street?" Love Without Reason knows the answer to that question; those children who remain on the street over the years become chained to a life of crime, other forms of trafficking, and disease.
But that has to change. Join Love Without Reason's work to break the cycle of slavery through education and awareness. Getting the kids off the street is where Love Without Reason starts through the Project Butterfly initiative; with your support, these children are no longer at the mercy of traffickers. Through Project Butterfly, they are being fed, educated, counseled, and trained to become productive citizens.
Join a Love Without Reason medical mission and be prepared to become part of someone else's
story in ways that you can never forget. Philip was impacted by what went from encounters into
lifelong friendships. In fact, he includes many of those life-shifting moments in his
autobiography, "If Philip Can, You Can Too."
As a parent, you conjure up every type of scenario that could potentially happen. Teenagers, not so much. In fact, every parent experiences their kiddos pushing the boundaries every day, all the time. They are wired to test us and see how far they can go; it's in their nature. However, sometimes that pushing creates a reaction that no one could imagine.
Rachel was a typical teenager. Born and raised in a city on the Eastern coast of India, she tested the boundaries with her parents. One day, walking out of her home turned into two nights spent on the street. Rachel had ended up in the heart of a bustling city alone and scared. Feeling relieved and grateful at the invitation of two strangers to join them in their home for her was just an act of needed kindness.
Rachel entered a home and woke up in a new city. In one evening, she had been drugged, sold, and loaded on a train. Waking up in Mumbai, Rachel was taken by the traffickers and sold again to a brothel. Rachel was a fighter and spent three years in a dank dungeon. She was kept from the sunlight that entire time. Why? Human trafficking is about utterly breaking a human life. Rachel was exhausted and finally became compliant with the trafficker's demands. What was their price? For months an utterly shattered, helpless, and miserable little soul found her body every night brutally ravaged multiple times. This continued until the day her own life shifted. A young man who had been a customer was determined to fight for her to become his wife. His determination became a ray of hope. Rachel was freed to start her own life and family with him after incredible courage and perseverance.
Philip, who is the inspiration behind Love Without Reason, actually met Rachel during a Love Without Reason outreach trip. He could never forget her story. His friendships with Rachel and so many other families grew with each visit to India. With Rachel's permission, Philip would often share her story with others who felt like an empty shell trapped in a life of slavery -like Rachel. Rachel's story becomes their ray of hope.
It is special indeed to watch as Rachel continues Philip's desire to help others. Today, Rachel is one of the biggest advocates for awareness and prevention of human trafficking of youth. She now shares her own story with young women of all ages in Mumbai. The Project Butterfly center is a place where women experience life-shifting moments. Working with those who advocate providing education and reintegration into society is truly transformational. The women find incredible courage and perseverance because they want to be free like Rachel.