A Maryland high school senior writes about his experience volunteering at ICARE, an Indian hospital that treats blind people.
By Malhaar Nair
Our eyesight is one of our greatest gifts. It allows us to experience the world around us (even if it is limited to Netflix in our living rooms, in times as trying as these). Unfortunately, millions of people around the world have lost or are losing their vision.
India currently has the highest blind population at 12 million, representing more than a quarter of the world’s blind. More than 70% of the conditions that cause blindness are treatable, making blindness a temporary ailment with access to the right resources. Patients that cannot afford proper ocular care can come to ICARE for both interventional and preventative treatment.
The timely preventative care delivered through ICARE outreach clinics can mitigate disease that would eventually lead to permanent blindness. For patients dealing with more acute issues, ICARE can provide life-changing interventions such as cataract surgery, which restores eyesight for those in danger of complete loss of vision.
For me, I never realized that I could genuinely make a difference in something until I tried something unthinkable. In the summer of 2019, I took that plunge into the unknown. I took my first flight on my own to India. There, I did a medical volunteer observership at the ICARE Eye Hospital in Noida, India for two weeks.
ICARE is a nonprofit organization that aims to help treat the blind population. The hospital works in a very unique manner; There are two main wings: One wing for patients that pay the full fees for their medical care and treatments. The second wing is the hospital for patients that cannot afford the care and are treated for free.
I was able to see the Charity Hospital, do some volunteer work, talk to medical workers, and understand the ins and outs of the organization. I went into the surgery rooms to see cataract removal surgeries. I still remember taking the bus in the 110 degrees Fahrenheit heat to several rural villages to give screenings for local patients.
It was an eye-opening (no pun intended) experience for me as I saw that I could make a difference with the work I was contributing to. With COVID-19, I could not go back in person to help at ICARE again. Because of the pandemic, funding has drastically decreased, which is why I started a fundraising project to help ICARE during these times. As of November 2020, we have reached $4,799.
My happiest moment from this experience was getting a call from the ICARE workers back in India who were overjoyed by my fundraising endeavor. It is a humbling experience to see that I have made a positive impact on the organization. Over 150,000 patients across four states are served by ICARE annually. Continuing and scaling ICARE’s incredible efforts is only possible through generous support from supporters like you.
During COVID 19, it is more important than ever to support the critical work of effective non-profit organizations like ICARE. The needs of the blind poor remain ever-present during the pandemic, while the financial support that underwrites ICARE’s work becomes more scarce. With your help, we can ensure that ICARE can continue to increase outreach and provide the necessary care for millions of vulnerable patients across the Greater Delhi Area.
A donation of $40 is equivalent to 1 cataract-removal surgery. That means one person can get their life back for $40. For more information about donating, please go to tinyurl.com/icareMN. Together, we can help combat preventable blindness in India.
(Malhaar Nair is a senior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland.)