by Heather Wardle
In a small corner of a district hospital in Tibet, 12-year-old Datso sat crying. She was blind from bilateral cataracts, the clouding of the eye’s natural lens. Datso’s short life had been miserable and lonely. “I am blind and don’t deserve any friends,” she sobbed. “I am not capable of doing anything but sitting in my home with my grandparents all the time. Nobody is willing to play with me. I can’t see now and I am afraid that I won’t see ever again in my life.”
Thanks to the kindness of strangers in Canada, Datso received sight-restoring cataract surgery at a Seva Canada-sponsored eye camp in Tibet. Seva Canada is an international, non-governmental organization in Vancouver whose mission is the elimination of preventable and treatable blindness.
In Sanskrit, seva means “service” or “compassion in action.” For more than 26 years, Seva has been helping poor countries help themselves by creating sustainable eye care systems. Seva now works in seven countries – Tibet, Nepal, India, Tanzania, Guatemala, Cambodia and Egypt – training local eye-care specialists.
Datso is one of 314 million people worldwide with serious vision impairment. Of these, 45 million are blind and 124 million have low vision. Yet 75 percent of this blindness is either preventable or treatable. Often, a 15-minute cataract surgery that costs only $50 will restore sight and completely transform someone’s life.
|Drew Luyall, SEVAs youngest donor|
After her two eye surgeries, Datso was a changed girl. She was free to lead a normal life, see her loved ones, play with friends, go to school and be happy. “I feel like doing everything now,” she said laughing, “but first of all, I need to see my one-month-old brother at home!”
One kind Canadian who has given many gifts of sight is a remarkable 10-year-old boy named Drew Lyall from Kimberley, BC. Drew first heard about Seva Canada’s sight restoration and blindness prevention work in 2006 when he saw a Seva multimedia show in Kimberley. Since then, Drew has raised more than $1,500 for Seva Canada to fund eye surgeries and training in Asia and Africa.
To raise money, Drew has collected thousands of cans and bottles for recycling, often dragging them on his toboggan through the winter snows. Now that his local bottle depot has burned down, Drew is fundraising through local craft fairs and school talks. Drew has a heart of gold. He is full of compassion for those who are blind and he is tireless in his fundraising efforts. He’s paid for a Tibetan eye surgeon to get specialist training in Nepal, funded sight restoration for a child in Tanzania and introduced Seva to many people.
Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, is an Honourable Patron of Seva Canada. “During the last 26 years, Seva has helped to restore the sight of many thousands of people who suffer needlessly from blindness that is both preventable and treatable,” says Dr. Axworthy. “I am exceptionally proud to be associated with the work of Seva Canada.”
Heather Wardle is the development director of Seva Canada Society.
Saving sight on the roof of the world
Tibetan eye camps are miraculous events. Hundreds of blind patients are brought by their families, sometimes travelling for days. They are led-in blind and after a 15-minute surgery costing about $50 can see again.
Tibet has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world, primarily caused by cataracts. Seva Canada is the leading eye-care provider in Tibet, responsible for two-thirds of the cataract surgeries.
“Cataract surgery in adults is just wonderful. It’s the best bang for your buck operation in the world,” says ophthalmologist and Seva board member Dr. Peter Nash.
Mobile eye camps provide a way to reach the blind in remote areas. Each year, Seva runs as many as 25 eye camps, costing around $12,500 each. Each camp screens hundreds of people of all ages and performs up to 400 sight-restoring cataract surgeries.
Dekyi, a blind woman with six children to care for, received the gift of sight in October at a Seva eye camp in Chamdo. “For the first time in my life, I am happy,” she told the doctors. “Please tell all the people at Seva. They are the ones who have helped me end my bad karma and bring a glimpse of light to my life!”
This holiday season, choose to give the gift of sight. Visitwww.seva.ca or call 604-713-6622 for information and to request a copy of Seva’s Gift of Sight catalogue, an alternative giving guide. You can give the gift of sight on behalf of family members, friends and business associates. With each gift, Seva will send a card describing your gift to the person you wish to honour.