Cover Story

Youth as Ambassadors of Vision

Blindfolded youngsters at the Blind Walk taking selfies

Tindo was just 26 when he suddenly fell ill and died at Ramaiah Hospital, Bangalore. It was the most painful moment for his parents, Sunny and Silvy. But that did not stop them from making a very challenging decision. They gladly consented to donate his eyes. Tindo lives today through two persons who were visually challenged.

When Sebi and Manju lost their 5-year-old son Jacob, nothing could console them. Hesitantly, the members of St Thomas Church, Bangalore, whose parish they belonged to proposed donating his eyes. Sebi took a positive call. “My son will not come back. Let his eyes continue to live.” Jacob’s eyes opened the eyes of two visually challenged persons the next day.

A new revolution is happening in India — a revolution that brings hope to the millions of visually challenged persons who are waiting to see the world.

Students carrying banners on Blind Walk 2017
Youth-led change

Youth are leading a social revolution in India. They have rallied around the cause of blindness. Around 200,000 of them have taken a pledge to remove corneal blindness from India.

World Sight Day on 12 October saw this message being spread across campuses in India through a novel programme called BlindWalk. Developed by The Project Vision, a Bangalore-based non-government organization, it provided an opportunity for youth to ‘feel being blind’.

Young people across 250 locations from Shillong in the North East to Mumbai in the West, from Chandigarh in the North to Thiruvananthapuram in the South, were taken on a 1-kilometre Walk across busy streets around their campuses… blindfolded! Their only help was the visually challenged person in front of them. After being blindfolded, they held on to them and walked the half an hour journey, as the blind persons in front showed them the way, using their white canes. The life-changing experience made them end the Walk with a pledge to help visually challenged persons.

Why this revolution?

This move by young people is very significant since it addresses a major problem that India has been facing since long. India has the largest number of visually challenged persons in the world — 15 million or one third of the world’s blind population. This means that more than 1 per cent of the Indian population is visually challenged.

The only bright side to this dark reality is the fact that about 20 per cent of them can get sight. They are blind due to problems with the cornea and thus can get sight through a corneal transplant. In India, 20 per cent is about 3 million people.

Students being led on a Blind Walk

The dark side is that only about 30,000 people came forward to donate their eyes in 2016. Considering the fact that there were about 85 lakh deaths in our country last year, this is a very disappointing proportion. While 3 million people are waiting to see the world, we are burning or burying the corneas that could have given them sight.

Despite efforts by the government, the Eye Bank Association of India and various eye hospitals, there is no culture of eye donation among people in India. No religion or social or cultural group has promoted eye donation as a norm in society. Thus it requires a revolution and a movement by the youth of this country to change the attitudes of people. No visually challenged person awaiting a transplant should die before getting a chance to see themselves, their beloved people and the world.

Logo of The Project Vision with tagline Let Everyone See
How it started

George Kannanthanam, founder of The Project Vision, was living with about 200 persons affected by leprosy and HIV/AIDS for 12 years in the Sumanahalli Social Centre, Bangalore. About a dozen of them had lost their sight due to the long-term effects of leprosy or HIV medication. Sharing life with them and getting to know their deepest pains in a personal way, inspired him to start a movement that could bring them sight. He realized that there cannot be a better way t help a visually challenged person than giving him/her sight. A group of about 50 socially committed individuals from different walks of life gathered together as founder members and The Project Vision was born in 2013.

Vision and mission

The vision of The Project Vision was clear: LET EVERYONE SEE. This is because seeing is so essential to make life meaningful. One day at a session at St Joseph’s College, Bangalore, Fr George was trying to explain the difficulty of blind persons. He told them that they could not see their parents and they could not see the beauty of colours. A visually challenged student in the crowd stood up and said, “My problem is not that I can’t see others or colours. My problem is, I HAVE NOT SEEN MYSELF.” This summarizes the pain of every visually challenged person.

Read the full article by subscribing to the print magazine or the digital edition.