The Power of Visionary Work

By Komal Patel, Global Impact Fellow

I've been here for almost 2 weeks now and I can't believe how quickly it has flown by. First and foremost, before discussing the incredibly impactful experience that I have had here, I want to take the time to thank everyone in the staff from the administration to the physicians to the paramedics and everyone else who I have met here. It is with their guidance and support that this volunteering trip of mine has been such a success. They have been truly wonderful and have made this experience one that I will cherish for a long time to come.

That being said, there were so many things that we did and saw here that opened my eyes to the plight of healthcare access. The Kalinga Eye Hospital and Research Center (KEHRC) is a novel and admirable hospital that truly gives the word altruism meaning. The hospital runs rural eye camps where the paramedic staff and physicians go to the most remote and underdeveloped areas of Orissa and give free eye care. Depending on the severity of the eye problems, patients are brought back to the base hospital, located in Dhenkanal, and are not only given free eye care and surgery, but are housed and feed as well. These patients are given the same pre-op and post-op care that any normal paying patient would receive. Additionally, they are then given glasses and medication and after being examined by a physician for any further complications are then transported back to their villages. While in the camps, the physicians explained how to identify different eye problems from cataracts to blocked lachrymal passages. While working with the paramedics, Sandra and I have learned how to perform the pre-op procedures, namely taking blood pressure, measuring IOP, and testing for blood sugar levels. Once these patients were brought back, we were given the opportunity to see the cataract surgeries performed. While paying patients are given the same care, it is the non-profit work that this hospital does that has left an impression. There are no words to describe how it feels to see the first patient go through the process and have his or her sight restored. Yet, that indescribable feeling still remains with me even as I write this. It goes without saying that we are eternally grateful to the KEHRC and Unite for Sight for giving us such a wonderful opportunity, which we would normally have not had in the United States of America.

KEHRC is just one of the subunits of a parent organization called NYSASDRI, an acronym which stands for National Youth Service Action and Social Development Research Institute. This parent organization is in charge of some 40 projects that deal with the advancement of people and culture within Orissa ranging from projects in agriculture to women's rights to eye care. KEHRC is just one subunit, but a very important one. After spending time here, I have come to realize what a gap there is in access to health care. Rampant poverty, lack of education, lack of infrastructure, and many other barriers stand in the way of the Oriyas. Performing over 5,000 cataract surgeries a year, this hospital is the first to make outreach and eliminating needless blindness a priority and for that we are inspired by their vision and dedication to the public. I have seen first hand that every person has the ability to impact and change the lives of many, as each of the people here are doing daily. Yet, they have such a sense of humility and sincerity. It's truly refreshing to see altruism at its best.

On a more personal note, I have never had a volunteering experience quite like this before. When I came here, I had no idea what to expect and was entirely nervous and scared. The people here not only put me at ease, but I can say with certainty that the friends that I have made here are going to stay with me for a long time and I will miss them very much. While they were all emotionally and mentally supportive of our exchange into a new culture, they were also very eager to engage us in learning and participating in caring for the patients from the most basic aspects like registration to the most complex aspects like surgeries. While here, I saw that medicinal reactions to diseases weren't enough and that preventive measures were going to be the next step to prevent blindness. I created a mini-project that I proposed to the administration of both the hospital and NYSASDRI for the education of children through care packages which would contain educational pamphlets and small toys to explain the structure of the eye and how it works. I never thought that an idea by a volunteer would be taken seriously. To my delight, everyone was very supportive encouraging, and equally excited about the project.

I believe that service is good for the soul. The work done by both the parent group and KEHRC is remarkable and I hope will continue for a long time to come. I am leaving here with a new faith in humanity because of how everyone on every level has cared for each patient. No one single person was more important than any other and everyone took responsibility for even the slightest tasks that were to be completed. The work done by the organization is truly visionary and I am honored to have been part of it. To future volunteers, my advice is to take initiative to get involved and ask as many questions as possible. You won't have any idea where the time went as they keep you busy and occupied here with both work related and cultural activities. The people here are more than willing to help you make the most of your trip, so use it to your advantage.

I want to express my sincere thankfulness to the entire hospital staff for taking the time to plan every aspect of the trip from learning eye anatomy (thank you Sanjay Yadav), to pre-op and post-op care (thank you to each and every paramedic), to explaining the causes and treatments of each eye problem (thank you Dr. Jagadala, Dr. Garnayak, and Dr. Patra), and organizing and planning every detail (thank you Sarang, Jennifer, and Sunil).