Within a few days of arriving in Madurai, several things have already become routine, from waking up at 7AM for work to taking cold bucket showers (which are beyond refreshing after walking under the scorching heat). I think it mainly has to do with amount of information I’ve learned about Aravind in a short amount of time and all the friendly staff that have made this a smooth transition for us.
Last week, we toured the hospital and attended presentations regarding Aravind’s development. I was most moved by Aravind’s founder Dr. G. Venkataswamy (aka Dr. V). He is truly inspirational and I really admire two main things about him: 1) his perseverance and 2) his vision for India. Dr. V was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, leaving his fingers and toes crippled. It was painful for him to walk or run errands let alone perform surgery. However, this didn’t stop him from pursuing his career. Over a period of time, he slowly developed and mastered his surgical skills. Upon retirement, he decided he would follow his dream and build a hospital that provided affordable eye care to the people of India. His determination and incredible patience led to the success and high quality of Aravind. Dr. V also made sure to provide phenomenal opportunities for young females. By selecting girls as the ophthalmic assistants, Aravind allows the “sisters” to have greater recognition from society and opens doors to pursue higher education.
On the weekends, Aravind organizes eye camps in nearby neighborhoods to perform screenings. I visited an eye camp last Saturday where over 130 patients were examined within 4 hours (!). I watched as Dr. Sonjaway went through patient after patient with only a sip of coffee. Below are pictures of her examining the lens with an opthoscope and the retina with a flashlight (to check for cataract development). After watching how the sisters and the doctors interacted at the eye camp, I realized that Aravind functions like a family, which without a doubt plays an important role in their high efficiency and performance. At the end of the eye camp, the sponsors provided lunch for all the workers and the patients going back for surgery. For the first time, I found myself eating on a banana leaf with a variety of traditional Indian food, which were all very delicious (pic below)
Side note: I may also have been featured on the local news of Madurai, which was pretty exciting/unexpected. I was sitting on a bench and talking with the team members. Before I knew it, a cameramen began videotaping the camp organizer discuss what I gathered to be about the performance of the eye camp (this was all I could make out from the bits of english he used lol).
Overall, the eye camp was a lot of fun and a great way to see first-hand what happened on the field.
Over the next 2 months, I will be working with Dr. Tulika who is currently doing her fellowship in pediatric opthamology. My project involves collaborating with the Parent Circle Team and Aravind doctors to create a clipbook with about 12 topics relating to pediatric eye care. The clipbooks found on the Parent Circle website are accessible to teachers, pediatricians, nurses, and most importantly parents. Our clipbooks will essentially serve to educate and raise awareness about common eye conditions including amblyopia, refractive errors, and cataracts. More on this later, but I’m really excited to work with experts in the field in the upcoming weeks!