Smile Pinki and the Great Movie Giveaways

11/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, yeah, unless you're still suffering through Philosophy 101. But if someone makes a brilliant documentary short and no one watches it -- does it have any impact? Even if it won the 2009 Oscar?

When the movie is Smile Pinki, and it has such potential for changing the lives of many children around the globe, that's just not good enough for Brian Mullaney, the co-founder of The Smile Train, an American philanthropist who refuses to rest on his laurels. When Smile Pinki, the story of two Indian children with cleft palates whose lives were changed thanks to Mullaney's charity, won the Academy Award it was a great moment -- and the impoverished Pinki came to America to show off her post-op smile. But that was not enough. Now, the organization is doing a major giveaway, sharing ten million DVDs via its website to raise awareness -- and funds. And it's the first time ever that an Academy Award winning movie has been given away for free.

What struck me watching the short -- finally -- was how The Smile Train succeeds through simplicity as a charity. Based on the principle that to better one life is to change the world one smile at a time, the organization makes the simple cleft palate surgery available for free to children around the world. Over 120,000 in 76 countries receive the cleft surgery annually. The procedure takes only 45 minutes and costs as little as $250.

A child first made me aware of The Smile Train. My friend's son chose it as the charity at his Bar Mitzvah and requested that guests donate to that cause rather than give him gifts. What I appreciated was that this act of giving wasn't about aggrandizing the Bar Mitzvah boy -- and putting something on his resume to help him get college. This boy was genuinely a child reaching out to help other children around the world.

Another thing that impressed me with Pinki was the child's eye view of rural India it presents. When I was six, I lived in a Gujarati village for a year with my family and I was surprised to see how little had changed. Pinki had to walk for three hours on dirt roads with her father to get to the nearest village to travel to get the operation -- and she's barefoot! How many pairs of shoes do my kids have hidden under their beds alone? She doesn't even have a bed in her mud hut, nor does she have an Xbox360, or the internet, or a closet full of clothes. But she has a father and mother whose love is as strong as any American parents'. They're clearly devoted; in a tender moment Pinki's illiterate father smooths her hair into two perky pony tails following her operation. And despite their fears, they take the risk and travel to a distant hospital to get the life-changing operation.

The Smile Train couldn't have made it easier to see this Academy Award winning short. And watching it with your children has the potential to change your life and theirs and, more importantly, better the lives of cleft kids around the world.