Fighting Poverty By Reducing Dependency In Poor Communities | #2030InSight
Very often, when a family member becomes blind, it also affects other members of their household. Caregivers within their family often have to forfeit paid jobs to take care of a blind person at home, further compounding an impoverished family’s restricted household income, and often pushing them even deeper into the seemingly inescapable cycle of poverty.
Investing in the cure of needless blindness in such communities contributes towards the positive economic development of such families by decreasing dependency, which can in turn help to reduce extreme poverty.
This is a story from a household in a remote settlement in Nepal where an 85-year-old blind person, Putali lives in the care of her sister-in-law, Suntali and her granddaughter-in-law Kabita. With the closest eye hospital being several hours away, when Putali became blind due to cataracts, Suntali and Kabita agreed that there was nothing much that they could do. They did not have the means or the resources to seek or get treatment for Putali.
Then one day a Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation screening team arrived on their doorstep. Suntali and Kabita were persuaded to take Putali to the foundation’s screening camp.
There, an eye health assistant assessed her eyes, and confirmed that Putali was blind due to cataracts. She was invited for free surgery at an upcoming Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation microsurgical outreach camp in Doramba from March 18th to the 20th, an hour’s drive away.
When the day of the surgery arrived, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation team received a call saying that Suntali and Kabita were unable to bring Putali to the camp. Suntali had to take care of the cattle and to plant maize, and Kabita had to work at a construction site breaking stones. For both of them, the opportunity cost of bringing Putali to the camp outweighed her chance to get cured of blindness.
Not to be deterred, and determined to cure every patient they have identified for cataract blindness, a team from the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation travelled to Putali’s house. They brought along a local health assistant from the local village to counsel the family.
After almost an hour of convincing, finally Kabita decided to forfeit two days of paid wage for her great grandmother-in-law’s sake. She had one another condition — that the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation take and accommodate her seven year old son at the camp as well.
While Kabita hastily readied herself to head to the camp, Suntali, Putali’s primary caretaker readied Putali. She quickly prepared a staple meal, freshened her up, assisted her to the toilet, changed her, and packed a few basic belongings to take to the camp.
Whilst waiting for Suntali to get Putali ready, the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation team also learned that Putali has a grown-up son of her own. But since Putali became blind, already overburdened with his own family’s responsibilities, he had dropped his mother into the care of her in-laws.
Since then, Putali had been spending her days in darkness in the one-room home that she shared with Suntali and Kabita, with nothing much to look forward to except eating the evening meal that prepared for her each day, and to wait for her sister-in-law to be free for a quick chat.
When asked what she would do if her blindness was cured, Putali replied:
“I would walk around the village, interact with my neighbours, fetch my own drinking water, play with my great grandson, and also go to the toilet on my own”.
Once everyone was ready, Kabita carried her grandmother-in-law on her back to take her to the waiting Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation vehicle. At the outreach camp, the family settled in amongst other patients and their caretakers.
Putali’s seven-minute life changing sight restoration surgery was conducted by Dr Sanduk Ruit, co-founder of the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation, in the presence of co-founder Mr Tej Kohli, a philanthropist who believes in investment in sight restoration programs as a catalyst to reduce poverty.
On 20th March, 2022, Putali’s patches were removed in the presence of Dr Ruit and Mr Kohli along with 332 others who had all received their second chance to see again with the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation.
Living with blindness, and shunned from society for almost a year, initially it was very difficult for Putali to come to terms with being able to see again. Initially stunned, she gradually adjusted to her new found vision. After recognizing her granddaughter-in-law and great grandson, she requested them to take her back home. Her great grandson lovingly held Putali’s hand as he directed her away from the camp to the awaiting vehicle.
Catching a moment with Putali’s granddaughter-in-law Kabita, she shared her happiness with the Tej Kohli & Ruit foundation team: “Thank you so much for convincing us to bring her (Putali) to the camp. I might have lost Rs 1,000 spending two days here, however watching her able to see again has made the entire trip very fruitful”.
Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide, accounting for more than fifty percent of the world’s blind and visually impaired. A staggering 90% of the world’s cataract blind live in the developing world, and continue to be needlessly blind most often because they cannot afford or access surgery.
Dr Sanduk Ruit has been on a lifelong mission to end this chain of poverty induced cataract blindness, and has dedicated over 30 years of his career in perfecting a cataract surgical delivery system, and taking the technology to the world’s most underserved communities. Together Dr Ruit and Tej Kohli are amplifying this work by expanding efforts to more of the world’s most underserved communities.
Attending the Doramba camp in person and witnessing the transformation in lives of the people, and in effect communities, further reinforced Tej Kohli’s belief that sight restoration programs such as the Doramba Outreach Camp remain the best way to combat extreme poverty and transform communities.
Incidentally, the Doramba camp also marked the one year anniversary of the formation of the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation. During its first year, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation was able to screen 128,094 people and cure 13,690 people of blindness. The journey to screen one million and cure between 300,000 to 500,000 by 2030 continues, and immediately after the Doramba camp. The Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation performed another 305 life-transforming cataract surgeries in the Nijgad region of Nepal and hope to continue changing lives for the better.