12 Hours a Day, 15 Days Off a Year

Before I came to Aravind, I wanted to know what kind of organization I would be spending my next 9 weeks at, so I decided to read Infinite Vision by Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Senoy. The iron triangle-breaking, easily-accessible, low-cost, high-quality eye care that the book emphasized over and over seemed like a fantasy to me (someone who basically spends all her class time at Penn studying how the American healthcare system is broken). So, one of my hopes for the summer was to figure out how Aravind makes this possible.

Now that I’ve been at Aravind for over 7 weeks, I feel like I have some idea of how to answer this question.

Without a doubt, Aravind is an INCREDIBLE organization. Yes, it is hyper-efficient to a degree unlike any hospital I have ever seen, but what has astonished me from day one is that there is a sense of purpose in everything, from its vision (no pun intended!) to way the hospital is structured to the people who work here. You can really feel that every decision made here is intended to move towards the mission of eradicating needless blindness. For example, on our tour of the hospital when Udaya (Faculty Associate at LAICO) asked us why the contact lens clinic was located in Unit 3, of course the answer was because Unit 3 is for young adults, the age group that is most likely to prefer contact lenses! Decisions like this seem so simple in retrospective, but having the foresight to ask those questions is what Aravind specializes in.

Everyone who works at Aravind is extremely smart and driven, but the mid-level ophthalmic personnel (MLOPs) are what make this hospital really run. The MLOPs (also just called “sisters”) are all young women who have been selected from surrounding villages and work in various departments in the hospital. Although I haven’t spent much of my time with the sisters (most of my work is in the office), I did get a chance to talk to them when I visited an eye camp at a village.

This is the school where we held the eye camp in Kamudi (a village 2 hours away from Madurai).

Most of the sisters are recruited right out of high school (around 16/17 years old). They spend 2 years training and then work for a few more years, so a lot of them are around the same age as me! One of the sisters that I got to know at the camp was shocked to realize this (I still haven’t decided whether I should be amused or offended by this)! For many of the sisters, working at Aravind is an amazing opportunity, since they can earn money, learn new skills, and improve their future prospects. However, all of this does come at a cost. Although all the sisters at the camp were having fun joking with their friends while working, many of them admitted to feeling burnt out. They work about 12 hours a day and get 15 days off a year (including sick days). After hearing that, I realize I have no right to complain about my 9am-6pm, 6 days a week schedule here. I can’t even imagine working so many hours now or at a younger age!

Some of the MLOPs at the eye camp!

Knowing more about the MLOP experience has made me think a lot about how much can get done through hard work and discipline. Without the sisters, Aravind would not be able to function, and maybe if I set a higher bar for myself, I would be able to achieve a lot more than I expect. After all, the culture of hard work has been the foundation of Aravind’s growth.

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About Nadha Illikkal

Hi! I'm Nadha Illikkal, and I'm a rising junior studying Health and Societies. I'm a born-and-bred New Englander from Andover, Massachusetts. This summer, I'll be interning at Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, where I hope to learn about compassionate and high quality care. In my free time, I love doing puzzles (jigsaw, crossword, sudoku, you name it!) and watching sports!