Each year at this time I am transported back to a time that the Gift of Sight changed the life of a young girl I encountered in Northern India…
It was about a decade ago and I was visiting a school as part of my work with Operation Eyesight. The room was loud – full of the sound of children’s laughter and small, yet confident, voices. I stood at the front of the class and asked questions of India’s next generation of Ieaders. What did they know about taking care of their eyes? What did they know about India? When I asked who the current President was there was an uproar in the class, as each child jumped out of their seat, hand up, shouting. The headteacher and I nodded in approval and applauded the unanimous response.
I carried on and asked who the current Vice President was, but this time the room fell silent. As I was opening my mouth to say the answer, a loud voice bellowed through the classroom, but it wasn’t from any of the students… “Mohammad Hamid Ansari!” the voice beckoned. The students glanced around the room, curious to know which of their peers had remembered the answer, but this time no hands were raised. The answer had come from outside, which I didn’t think much of at the time. A parent had probably been listening in and shouted the answer.
Asking the children their aspirations in life prompted the standard answers – teacher, accountant, police officer, Vice President of India. “Vice President of India!” I exclaimed, “That’s a big job, but if anyone can manage that, it’s you. Why do you want to be the Vice President?” I asked. “Because that’s the only position available!” the boy responded, eliciting laughter from the whole room.
As I was leaving the school, I noticed a young girl washing dishes by the side of the building. I felt drawn to her, as if we were meant to meet. “Did I get it right?” she asked. It was then I realized it had been her who yelled into the classroom.
I asked why she was not in school. Her eyes didn’t work like the other kids’, she explained, so her parents withdrew her and instead she stayed home and helped with chores.
I was immensely saddened by her story and became determined to help. I visited the girl’s family, explained my role at Operation Eyesight and directed her and her father to one of our partner hospitals where she received a complimentary eye exam and a pair of glasses. When I followed up with the hospital, I was told that the moment this girl put her glasses on, she began smiling, laughing, and talking about returning to school immediately.
This young girl’s story inspired not only me, but others in the area as well, demonstrating that they, too, can and deserve to have the Gift of Sight and the positive outcomes it can bring – pride, the ability to learn and work, and the possibility of achieving whatever they can dream.
Although I do not know where this little girl ended up, I know she learned that her voice gave her the power to overcome obstacles and live up to her true potential as the intelligent and deserving person she is – in the classroom and beyond. And who knows? Maybe she will become the next Vice President of India.
There are still many other children and families in need of the Gift of Sight. I invite you to help more kids achieve their potential by giving the Gift of Sight in the name of a loved one this holiday season.