Notes from the Field, January 2010
In January I visited the Blind People’s Association (BPA), a See Your Impact partner organization located in the Indian state of Gujarat. The most rewarding part of my visit was meeting Gaguben and seeing the impact BPA had on her life. Gaguben is just one success story, but there are countless people whose lives have been transformed by the good work of dedicated, transparent NGOs in the field. However, a vital component of her story is missing: how did Gaguben find out about the free cataract surgeries offered by BPA? Providing services is just the first step for many organizations whose target populations live in rural areas. Connecting people in need to the services being provided is a major obstacle for some of our partners. Not all children go to school, not all adults work regular jobs, not all families have access to transportation. If you want to help as many people as possible, how do you reach them?
BPA’s solution to this problem is the equivalent of a mobile vision-care road show. Four times a week they host “Eye Camps” in villages all over the state of Gujarat, bringing the doctor, the equipment, the medicines and the spectacles to the villagers (at a minimum cost of $100-$200 for BPA). The Eye Camps are a grassroots solution to the absence of medical care in rural areas. Healthy eyes and clear vision are essential to the livelihoods of local people. Poor eyesight can prevent a child from succeeding at school. Cataracts can prevent an adult from keeping a job. Without the Eye Camps, there would be no access to these basic services.
One week in advance of an Eye Camp, BPA sends field workers into neighboring villages to inform people when and where the Eye Camp will be held. All adults and children are encouraged to attend, free of charge. The Eye Camp itself lasts several hours, and no one who shows up is turned away. Children are given a vision test and free spectacles, if needed. Adults are screened for everything from eye infections and allergies to cataracts and glaucoma. Most leave the camp with eye drops specific to their ailment. If cataract surgery is needed, they are taken by bus to the N&H Eye Hospital where their surgery, and their stay, is also free.
Gaguben’s cataracts had been clouding her sight and limiting her mobility for over a year when she heard about the Eye Camp in her area. She lives only an hour’s drive from the N&H Eye Hospital and could have had free surgery much earlier, if she had only known this service was available. I wonder how many other Gujaratis who need eye care are unaware of BPA’s work? That is why the Eye Camp is so vital: it brings awareness to the local level. The need exists, the services exist, and the Eye Camp provides the conduit of awareness.
In a similar way, See Your Impact acts as a conduit, linking people who believe in the transformative power of individual successes to organizations that share that belief. I’ve met so many travelers in India who are moved by the great need here and want to make a difference, but don’t have a productive outlet to do so. Making a direct, visible impact on an individual’s life is not an opportunity many NGOs provide, and I’m proud to tell people that the organization I work for is facilitating real change, connecting people who need help with people who can help. But just like the Eye Camps need field workers, so See Your Impact needs champions to raise awareness of our efforts.