By Elizabeth Sangeta Paul
Kolkata, Nov. 13, 2018: Young people from Ireland who came to provide eye care to the poor in an eastern Indian state say they have gained much more than what they could give.
“It was indeed a life time experience for me to reach out the needy in India,” Ela Walsh, a student of Jesuit-managed Crescent College Comprehensive SJ, at Dooradoyle, Limerick, Ireland.
She was part of a ten-member volunteer team from Ireland that collaborated with Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum, a Jesuit-managed NGO, to conduct free eye check-up camp for poor in West Bengal state.
“More than 240 urban poor and around 200 rural poor got opportunities to be treated of their eyes,” Udayani director Jesuit Father Irudya Jothi told Matters India on November 13.
The program was organized in collaboration with Hope Kolkata Foundation and Specsavers Ireland. The first camp on November 12 was for the poor in Kolkata. They then went to Bishnupur block of 24 Parganas district on November 13 to reach out to the rural poor.
The team provided spectacles on the spot to those who needed them most. Those with slightly better eyesight were promised to glasses within 20 days, Father Jyoti said.
Sinead Clohessy from Ireland, who is on the managing committee of the Crescent College, said she was “overwhelmed” seeing what the Jesuits at Udayani have been doing.
Clohessy, the retail director of Specsavers who believe in affordable eye care for everybody all over the world, observed that there is an element of trust and love among beneficiaries of Udayani.
“The Jesuit ethos is wonderful here. Udayani, true to the Jesuit tradition, is open and welcomes for everyone in the city,” she added.
Walsh said she saved around 60,000 Euros to come to Kolkata. “My dream has been fulfilled,” she added.
Aslin Bailey, another student, too said she was extremely happy to be part of the camps. She said she was indebted to Udayani for helping to see the faces of their beneficiaries.
Father Jothi said Udayani has helped form a federation of women self-help groups that work as an NGO. Its members were given the challenge to conduct the camp for people who had registered as “Sampurna Nari Kalyan Sangathan” (federation of women’s total empowerment).
The women mobilized the villagers who needed a new vision and there was an “overwhelming response,” Father Jothi said.
Shannen, one of the Irish volunteers and an owner of the Shop of Specsavers, said she felt humbled that she got such a love and respect in West Bengal. “I feel grateful for this opportunity” she told Matters India.
Manoranjan Makhal from Raghavpur, a patient who got a pair of spectacles, said he could never afford to go to an eye doctor in Kolkata.
“I got a new lease of life. I used my mother’s old spectacles when I needed to see but that was broken,” the 67-year-old man explained.
Most patients in Kolkata were pavement dwellers, security guards, daily wage laborers, domestic workers and slum dwellers.
The rural patients were daily wagers, small farmers, home makers, and agricultural laborers.
Mitali mondol, a domestic worker from Diamond Harbour, said, “I saved one full day’s wage and at the same time got free eye checkup and a pair of spectacles. Thanks to Udayani, it would not have been possible even if I had money to spend in government hospital.”
“It is an attempt partnering another NGO, Hope Kolkata Foundation, to connect the needy with the generous donors for a new vision,” said Father Jothi.
The Jesuit priest pointed out that the poor tend to neglect important organs such as eyes because their biggest worry is the question of survival.
Udayani trainer Alphonsa Kumari said the Udayani activists would organize more camps and accomplish wonders.