Rajameenakshmi attends Virudhunagar Hindu Nadar Primary School in Madurai, not far from the famous Meenakshi Amman temple. She's nine years old and wants to be an engineer. She's also a serious carrom player, which looks like a combination of checkers and table shuffleboard to the uninitiated.
Ten-year-old Mohammed is a student at VHN, too. He loves cricket and drawing. When he grows up, he's going to be a district collector -- that's the chief adminstrator for district government. A very important job!
Both children have big plans and are working hard in school to get good grades. But three months ago, they were having trouble with some of their schoolwork. Why? They couldn't see the blackboard clearly.
That's when Aravind's Spectacles for Scholars team came to their school, and tested the students' eyesight -- about four percent of the class needed eyeglasses, including Rajameenakshmi and Mohammed. Now they are back on track to fulfill their dreams.
Last year, Aravind screened 500,000 school children and provided 15,000 glasses to children with poor eyesight -- thanks in part to your donations. A pair of eyeglasses costs about 450 rupees -- a little over $7 -- but no one can put a price on being able to see! And, we're just getting started -- with your help, we are planning to screen 5 million children by 2020.
Thank you from all of us at the Aravind Eye Foundation for your generous and thoughtful support. Please contact us if you would like to know more about the Spectacles for Scholars programs or if you have comments or suggestions. We always want to hear from our friends.
Donna Campbell, Exectutive Director, Aravind Eye Foundation
P.S. Please enjoy this video about Spectacles for Scholars and meet Mohammed and Rajameenakshmi!
Six-year-old Santhosh is the only child of a poor fishing family from Rameswaram, a remote village located at the very tip of India. He was diagnosed with retinoblastoma -- eye cancer -- during his first visit to Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai a year ago. At first, his parents tried alternative forms of healing to cure his cancer, but his tumor grew worse. Finally, they returned to Aravind to seek medical help.
A full-course of treatment for eye cancer -- surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, custom-made prosthetic eyes, and counselling -- costs $1000. Santhosh's family could never afford the treatment on a fisherman's wages. But thanks to people like you, his treatment was completely free. Today, his tumor has regressed, and Santhosh and his family face a brighter future. His cancer is probably cured, but Aravind doctors will monitor his health for many years to come to make sure that he remains cancer-free.
Retinoblastoma is a blinding, disfiguring, often fatal cancer that strikes children under age five. In the United States, retinoblastoma is 90% curable -- in India, 90% of children die, because diagnosis and treatment come too late.
Dr. Usha runs Aravind's pediatric cancer division. “Some of these children are so resilient,” says Dr. Usha. “I’ve cried at work on so many different occasions, and I’ve lost patients at every stage. But I know we have to keep doing what we can. Someone has to fight for these patients. We have seen how we can make a difference, but there is still a lot to do.”
There is still a lot to do -- but thank you for all you have done. Your gift saves sight and life.
I wish you a joyous and beautiful 2015.
Donna Campbell, Executive Director, Aravind Eye Foundation
"Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful."From the journals of Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, founder of Aravind Eye Care Systems.
Aravind is always looking for more effective ways to reach patients – it’s one of our biggest challenges in our mission to eliminate needless blindness. More than 70% of India’s population still lives in rural areas, with little access to eye care. Usually, there is no resident eye doctor, and a cataract patient might travel 250 miles to have surgery.
From the beginning of Aravind Eye Care System in the 1970s, its founder, Dr. G. Venkataswamy, traveled to rural villages to bring eye care to the rural poor. His early efforts have evolved into an enormous community outreach effort; in 2014, we screened more than 558,000 people through 2600 eye camps.
Eye camps provide essential care to people living in the most remote, poorest parts of the country. We work in close partnership with community organizers to publicize the camps. Aravind doctors and nurses travel to rural villages to examine patients, treat common ailments, prescribe glasses, and recommend surgery for those who need it.
Today, about one-third of Aravind’s surgical patients come from eye camps. But in the early days, a lot of people didn’t show up for their “free” surgeries. Why not?
It turns out “free” can be very expensive to the average Indian worker, who has to pay for transportation and take off time from work, losing a day’s wages. A blind beggar told us, “Your ‘free’ surgery costs me 100 rupees.”
We learned that we had to address all the barriers that people might face in accessing eye care – even when it’s free! So, Aravind revised the eye camp program to include transportation to and from the hospital, food and medicines, and a follow-up visit in their village at no cost to the patient. Now more than 80% of patients who are diagnosed with cataracts at an eye camp come to Aravind Hospital for surgery and receive the gift of sight!