Meet an inspirational Harborough man who has clocked up thousands of miles travelling the world to support a children’s charity

The Harborough district councillor cannot wait to throw himself straight back into the front-line after Covid

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 1:28 pm
Peter James has criss-crossed the globe visiting as far away as South America and South-East Asia as an ambassador for the international cleft charity Smile Train.

An inspirational Market Harborough man has clocked up thousands of miles travelling the world backing a brilliant children’s charity.

Peter James, 71, has criss-crossed the globe visiting as far away as South America and South-East Asia to support international cleft charity Smile Train.

And the non-stop Harborough district councillor cannot wait to throw himself straight back into the front-line fight to back the great health cause he’s adopted as the Covid pandemic is dealt with and defeated.

Peter James.

“Smile Train is just an absolutely wonderful charity and I love helping it and working for it.

“I see myself as a sort of ambassador for them in a way.

“I’ve devoted myself to getting behind this particular group because you see the amazing results of your support straight away,” said Peter, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Market Harborough’s Little Bowden ward.

“It’s completely life changing to operate on a child with a cleft palate or cleft lip and carry out vital reconstructive surgery.

Peter James with Dr Chay at a children's hospital in Vientiane, Laos.

“I first began to contribute to the charity when it came to my attention back in 2004.

“We all get loads of information about so many charities all the time.

“But I just decided there and then that Smile Train was such a good mission to support.

“You see exactly where your money is going and how much good it’s doing,” said Peter, who was an engineer.

“I’ve visited so many hospitals over the years to see the magnificent work that’s being done and meet the children who benefit and their families as well as the surgeons we all owe such a big thank you to.

“It’s just so humbling.

“I was working out in China in 2008 and popped across to Thailand for a break.

“I met a couple of doctors from Singapore at an elephant reserve who were training up surgeons in Thailand.

“I quickly began to realise just what an outstanding international charity this was.”

About 1 in 700 babies are born with a cleft lip and/or palate globally.

“A cleft occurs when certain body parts and structures do not fuse together during foetal development.

“Clefts can involve the lip and/or the roof of the mouth, which is made up of both hard and soft palate,” says Smile Train.

“Around the world, many children with clefts will never receive the reconstructive surgery they need.”

A keen motor racing fan with a long career in local government behind him, Peter said: “Smile Train is a lean mean set-up – they only have four people in the team in London.

“They work alongside amazing surgeons who carry out these crucial operations on children for free.

“But medication is expensive.

“And a poor family in a vast country like Laos might have to travel 500 miles for their child to receive surgery.

“So they need supporting.

“That’s why I am so committed to raising funds for Smile Train.

“The work that people like me do is double-edged,” said the father-of-four, who’s lived in Market Harborough for nine years.

“On the one hand we help to get the suffering child the surgery they so desperately need.

“And on the other we help to showcase and highlight the incredible work that Smile Train does for so many youngsters all over the planet.

“I’ve personally given talks to groups such as Market Harborough Rotary Club all over South Leicestershire – as well as nationwide and overseas.

“A typical operation costs £150.

“Reconstructive surgery is critical – we can’t over-state just how important this is,” said Peter.

“Not just to the child but to their family as well.

“Youngsters with cleft lips and palates find it harder to eat and to speak.

“That might stop them going to school and becoming educated, getting a job, carving out a career.

“All the things that most of us take for granted.

“In certain cultures these poor children are hidden away.

“One boy was found concealed in a barn when he was 18 because his parents were too embarrassed by him,” said Peter, who’s spent a lot of time supporting children in hospitals in Brazil.

“About 65 per cent of babies affected by this very serious issue are boys.

“It’s mostly genetic and may also be linked to poor diet and environmental factors such as the water supply.

“The families of these children are so grateful when they are operated on.

“This surgery has such a positive impact on the whole family group, not just the child.

“The patient may well need two or three operations.

“But they are usually fine by the time they’ve reached 14 or 15.

“To see so many children transformed and effectively given new lives makes the heart soar.

“It is so satisfying, so fulfilling, to be able to play even a small part in literally putting a smile back on children’s faces as well as their parents’ and siblings’ faces.

“It makes all the effort, all the travelling totally worthwhile.

“And I would appeal to everyone to support this amazingly inspiring charity, Smile Train, as much as you can.”

Ian Vallance, the Director of Smile Train UK, said: “On average, 200,000 babies are born globally with a cleft each year.

“That’s 540 babies a day.

“At Smile Train, our primary goal is to ensure every child who is born with a cleft can live a full and healthy life.

“It’s always wonderful when our supporters have the opportunity to visit our partner hospitals - and experience first-hand the life-changing impact that our work is having on children in countries where free cleft surgery isn’t readily available.”

Saluting Peter, he said: “Peter is one such supporter.

“We are so grateful for all of the incredible time and support that he has given to us over the last several years.

“Thank you Peter!”

To find out more about Smile Train visit https://smiletrain.org.uk/