Project #1035

Give the Gift of Sight to the poor in India

by Aravind Eye Foundation
May 14, 2012

A mother's day tribute to the women of Aravind

Happy Mother's Day to all our mothers!

We are pleased to share with you these stories of the women who visit our vision camps and whose families have benefited from your generosity.   While Aravind provides free cataract surgery, your support pays for families to travel to Madurai or one of our other 6 hospitals for surgery and for food and accommodations for their families during recovery. 

These stories were collected by Pavithra Metha, grandniece of Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, as part of her book about Aravind -- Infinite Vision:  How Aravind Became the World's Greatest Business Case for Compassion. We hope you enjoy them. 

VK Ponni is 65 and has all the makings of a ringleader. A skeletal woman with a cheerful, I’m-in-charge air, given to floral speeches. And yet there is something sincere and heartwarming about her. She was married to a local politician, who then apparently married two other women and abandoned her to fend for herself and their two children.  She snuck away from home to attend the eye camp this past weekend and then quietly boarded a bus without informing her son or daughter-in-law whom she stays with. She phoned them two days later to let them know where she was (they’d assumed she’d gone to visit relatives). "I didn’t even bring a
change of clothes with me," she confesses with a grin, "But I wanted to come here because I had heard that they do good quality here. Now I stink so much I don’t know how you’re sitting next to me. I’m not this kind of person
you know. I bathe every day when I am at home." It is impossible not to smile listening to this women and her childlike candor.

Thenmozhi is Ponni’s relative. She is only 37 and has cataract in both eyes. Her vision was so badly impaired that she could only recognize people if they were standing a few inches away. She’d refused surgery up to this point because all the other places she’d been to were charging to much. Most of the women here are field laborers. Physically hard lives that begin before sunrise.  Water must be pumped and carried home, meals cooked, children taken care of all before the strenuous work in the fields. I ask them what it's like being at Aravind. Thenmozhli smiles, "We have to work so hard, being here – this is rest for us." Only in India does a woman consider the experience of eye surgery restful.

Nearby is Kalyani - who is 50-years-old. A woman with a mop of curly hair (it’s grown back after she shaved it. An offering to God in exchange for the health of a loved one). She doesn’t smile until I ask her to “But I have a big gap between my front teeth” she says anxiously. "So what?" I say, "You're still beautiful -- and you don’t look fifty – I would have guessed 45." She nods her head at this, and her mouth curves into a pleased smile. "My mother looked like a little girl until the day she died," she says sagely, "I am like her." Kalyani earns 40 rupees (less than a dollar) a day as a field laborer. “40!” says one of the other women, “that’s impossible”. No it’s true
says Kalyani. Then they’re cheating you, says her new found camp friend.  "That’s not a fair wage. The rest of us earn 60." It is hard to imagine the degree of hardship in the lives of these women. And yet, their resilience shines through -- as does the deep significance of what they are regaining at Aravind. Particularly poignant when you consider the fact that two thirds of the world's blind are women.

Saroja is 55 and has a luminous smile, it bursts forth with sunbeam brilliance. Her eyes and nose-ring twinkle. She wears a deep red sari edged with gold thread. She has a quiet air of nobility. And grace.   These woman have all come on faith, some heard of Aravind from friends in their village, others form relatives who’d been, others picked up the news from the “Vilambaram” (advertisements) in this case autorickshaw loudspeaker announcements that had blared across their villages.

"We are going to tell everyone we know back home that if they have eye trouble this is the place to come. Mark my words," says Ponni, "Every camp that Aravind holds in my area from here on will be a great success – write that down if you want and put the date on it! People are usually scared to come for surgery but we’ll tell them what a fine job is being done here and how well they will be taken care of."


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Organization Information

Aravind Eye Foundation

Location: New York - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Chitra Prasad
Project contact
Madurai, Tamil Nadu India
$58,212 raised of $250,000 goal
814 donations
$191,788 to go
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