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Lokvani talks to Revathy and Ramakrishna Raju

Nirmala Garimella
12/13/2004

The Ramakrishnas' goal was very simple – A desire to help visually impaired people in India lead a normal life and to rehabilitate them with visual devices that will make them see better. At the outset, it was questionable whether such an idea would even work and whether it would raise enough awareness and invite support. Says Ramakrishna Raju, who is now the Executive Director of Vision-Aid, USA “we were surprised at the willingness of people and the support that we received when we mooted this idea 2 years ago in India. Doctors came forward and encouraged us to start something and were even willing to partner with us in this effort”.

 

Indeed, the non profit, Vision-Aid, designed to rehabilitate poor people who were not blind but were unaware that they can make use of what useful vision they have, was a lofty goal for the young couple….But the planned marketing study that they conducted however revealed that they had the opportunity to do just that. So in the summer of 2004, during their visit to India, they launched Vision-Aid at Visakhapatnam, in Andhra Pradesh.

 

No one went in with their eyes closed. The LV Prasad Institute at Hyderabad, The National Institute for the Visually Handicapped ( NIVH), doctors, and government agencies gave a stunning show of support and generosity. With such strong backing, the charity which is barely 5 months old has already conducted a successful seminar, two workshops and invited a steady stream of patients at its local center.

 

When I met the couple at their Lexington home, I am astonished at their zeal and passion in this endeavor.Together, they have worked to create a comprehensive and well managed website http://www.visionaid.org that give the groups’ mission, case studies, and their overall vision. “Says Ram, “Typically hospitals and Doctors have treatment for major eye ailments that can be corrected by surgeries and cosmetic ways. But to people who have low vision problems there is no recourse and that is where Vision-Aid steps in. At the center in Vizag, we see 2 to 3 patients in a day, with an average of 2 hours needed per person" We look into their case history, offer counseling to overcome the stigma of using this device, etc. It is a well defined process that has been adopted by the West and is used in hospitals like the LV Prasad Eye Institute and Aravind Eye Hospital in India. What Vision-Aid is trying to do is to carry this awareness to underserved areas especially in remote towns and villages”.

 

Adds Revathy, “the challenge, of course is to motivate people with vision problems that they do have a usable vision. For instance we had this case of a 12 year old, who came to the center and had been going to a blind school and learning Braille. We had to train the mother and the child with devices so that he knew that he could actually read. Rehab is always low in the priority as this is incurable. But making good use of what you have is what we want them to realize”.

 

It is a committed and dedicated undertaking. Concludes Ram, “A mere $10 contribution can bring a free appointment and a vision aid device. We have so much untapped potential within our own community. All of us feel we can make a difference. The biggest challenge is to bring awareness. Here in the US, I hope the charity will develop a strategy and tap this expertise to develop and expand this to many more centers. I would like to think of it as franchising a non profit. Anyone interested in starting a center can do this so that we have direct access to those concerned. There is much to be done”.

 

While working their computer jobs and bringing up a young daughter Ramya,  the Ramakrishnas’ sometimes wonder if what they have started will lead somewhere. As Ram laughingly remarks, “We thought we had a crazy idea to do something good” but one of the persons attending the seminar at Visakhapatnam said to us “I wish there were more crazy people like you”.  Revathy agrees and admits “when the volition is good, it definitely has to go someplace”.

 

 

To know more about this organization, visit http://www.visionaid.org

 

 

Some facts about Low Vision

 

Over 40 million people in the world are blind, and over 180 million people have significant Low Vision conditions that cannot be corrected, cured or treated by conventional refraction, medicine or surgery.  (World Health Organization, 2001).

 

Over 90% of these visually impaired people live in developing countries.

 

Less than 15% of these visually impaired people in developing countries have access to vision rehabilitation services that could help to change their lives.

 

There are over 1.4 million visually impaired children ages 0-14 years

 

The vast majority of visually impaired children with low vision conditions in developing countries are sent to blind schools despite having usable vision because they don't have access to or cannot afford vision rehabilitation that could  help them to integrate them into regular schools.

 

A visually impaired person can be trained, with the help of Vision Rehabilitation, Vision Enhancement and Assistive Technology and low vision aids  to perform most daily tasks more confidently at home, in school, in the playground, in the kitchen and at the work place, in a safe and independent manner, if only they were aware and could easily access and afford such services



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