I was applying to college, thinking about my application essays while my hands were stringing a tennis racket. I’ve done this so often I think that I can do it in my sleep. Remarkable, I think to myself, what our hands can do. And then I think about the hands that I watched doing surgery in Cambodia.
The way I see it, it takes me 3 1/2 hours to fix a cleft lip and palate. I earn $10 for every tennis racket I string, and I can string up to a dozen in three and a half hours. Twelve rackets, $120, I think, as I tie off the mains and lace the crosses. This is what it costs to fix a cleft lip in Cambodia and change a child’s life: three and a half hours of my time. This is what I can do with these hands.
My twin brother and I began playing competitive tennis at the age of eight, and between the two of us, we began breaking ten strings a week. Paying $25 per racket at the local tennis shop was expensive, so I persuaded my parents to buy a stringing machine. At first, I only strung my rackets; soon, however, I began to string for friends, acquaintances, and finally for people I didn’t even know. Quite by accident I had started my own business. Making $10 per racket, and stringing dozens per week, the money quickly added up.
In 2012 I got to travel to Cambodia with my physician parents to work at Children’s Surgical Center (CSC), a nonprofit hospital that provides free medical care to Cambodians who need reconstructive surgeries. In Cambodia, if you are born with a cleft lip or palate, you won’t eat with the family, go to school, get a job outside of your home, marry, or have kids. You will probably sleep outside with the animals and you will work in the fields, with little prospect that your life will improve. At CSC it costs about $120 to repair a cleft lip (roughly 1/500th what it costs in the US). These children return to their families, join society, make friends, marry, and have families of their own. The only indication of their previous life is a small, almost invisible scar above their lip.
It takes me twelve rackets, or a few hours to make $120. This money doesn’t go far in America, but in Cambodia, it is enough to completely change the course of a child’s life. At CSC I got to help with the care of patients undergoing badly need surgeries, including for example cleft lip and palate repairs. I got to see the patients the following days while on rounds, including the beautiful, swollen smile of a child recovering from surgery.
So I am happy to string your rackets. Twelve of them, roughly $10 profit for each, after I have paid for the strings. In 3 ½ hours I have enough to fix a cleft lip at CSC.
How do you measure the good that you can do with your hands? If you would like, you can donate to Children’s Surgical Center in Cambodia at: CSC.org