Thursday, January 23, 2014

Helping the Visually Impaired in India

My exciting journey with Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) by Murali Krishnamurty, Founder, Executive Chairman Sankara Eye Foundation, USA 12 million people are blind in India, and an additional 50 million are visually impaired. Over 90 percent of the blind live in rural areas in extreme poverty. On the other side, up to 80 blindness of the blindness is treatable or preventable. Dr. R.V. Ramani and Dr. Radha Ramani founded Sankara Eye Care Institutions (SECI) in 1977 at Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, to provide vision to the visually handicapped poor in and around Coimbatore. My uncle, Mr. P. Balasubramaniam, used to volunteer at the Sankara Eye Hospital in Coimbatore. After completing my MS in Computer Science, I settled in the San Jose area California in 1984, and my brother, K. Sridharan, also moved to there a few years later. My uncle started talking to us about raising some support in the USA for free eye surgeries at our Coimbatore Hospital. We were so busy with work and our light music group ‘Pallavi’ that we were not ready to take up this responsibility. My uncle persisted but we would not budge. Everything changed when my brother visited the Hospital in Coimbatore in 1997. He came back deeply moved, and we finally decided to start the Sankara Eye Foundation, USA in 1998 with the help of our friend Mr. Ahmad Khushnood Qazi. We sent handwritten appeals to people we knew and raised around $8,000 in 1998, and that motivated us. We organized our first fundraiser by our group ‘Pallavi’ on April 3, 1999 in the San Jose area and organized the event meticulously with Customer Care as our priority. We raised over $18,000. The number of free eye surgeries at our hospital started increasing – from 8,000 in 1998 to 15,000 in 1999, and 22,000 in 2000. In the year 2000, our volunteer Rajeev Chamraj proposed a big vision of “Vision 20/20 by 2020” for SEF. I was excited and at the same time wondered if we were taking on too much. All of us, both at the SEF and SECI India were in the same boat like me. At that time I was into reading books by Swami Vivekananda. Swami-ji says, “Every one is potentially divine and can do anything and everything. Think big. Even if you are a thief, don’t be a petty thief, be a big thief.” That got into my head, and I motivated all of us into accepting a big vision of building 20 Sankara Eye Hospitals all over India by the year 2020 and play a significant role in eradicating curable blindness. We had no idea how we were going to do it but we committed ourselves to our vision. I also think very highly of India’s ex-President Dr. Abdul Kalam who has the vision of a “Developed India by the year 2020.” We will play a small role in that by helping the visually handicapped poor. Our first replication was in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, with the support of other organizations. Our sincere, whole-hearted work and big vision attracted volunteers and donors all over the USA. Support started pouring in, and the progress has been phenomenal – from one hospital and 8,000 free eye surgeries to eight hospitals and 150,000 free eye surgeries in 2013. We performed our one-millionth free eye surgery in March 2013 and hope to perform several million more. Our ninth hospital is getting ready in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and will be inaugurated in May 2014. We just purchased land in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, for our tenth hospital. This movement is unstoppable now, and I consider myself very fortunate for having been thrust into this work by our dear uncle. I thoroughly enjoy reading Osho books, and thanks to Osho I understand the beauty of other religions like Buddhism, Sufiism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Taoism, Judaism etc., Osho’s teachings also help me put my work in the proper perspective. Life is a celebration, and we must enjoy every moment of this. The past is not there, the future is not there, and only the current moment is there, and we must be present. I am also learning how to channel my energies and handle emotions. I am currently reading Osho’s Gita Darshan Vol. 2
, and it is just wonderful. What a brilliant way of explaining things so that a common man can understand! From Swami Vivekananda and Osho, I understand that God or Existence will take care of the blind poor, and I should not think that “I made a difference.” I am the privileged one as this is providing me an opportunity to become a better person, loving all beings, and enjoying life thoroughly. Only actions and no doer.