By Pankaj Jethwani, president of the Rotaract Club of the Caduceus, Mumbai, India. The club’s project, Vision Six by Six, was selected as the 2013 Rotaract Outstanding Project Awards international winner.
In June of last year, I was interacting with a group of kids at a school health camp in Dharavi. There, among uninterested and bored kids, I met Payal. She was bright, talkative, and a lot of fun! But I was surprised with her teacher’s feedback: Payal hated studying.
A quick vision test revealed she had myopia in both eyes. After organizing eye camps in low-resource schools in the area, we learned that 15 out of every 100 of the kids we tested couldn’t see clearly.
Children with undiagnosed vision problems often aren’t aware that this isn’t normal, and thus don’t complain of the symptoms. At a young age they can develop an aversion to attending school. The motivation behind our Rotaract club’s project, “Vision Six by Six,” was that this aversion could be prevented.
Since its inception, the program has provided primary eye care to over 10,000 low-income schoolchildren. The intervention is inexpensive (US$1.50 per child including treatment) and we have observed that 92 percent of the children adhere to the recommended treatment.
In this amazing journey, we did a few things right, but also made a lot of mistakes!
Skilled manpower wasn’t the program’s limiting factor, since our Rotaract club includes 135 doctors and medical students. The challenge was funding. But our club members worked together through crowd-funding to raise over $15,500 from more than 1,000 donors via a stand-up comedy fundraiser.
We defined our goals when we started and collected relevant data at each camp. At every step, we communicated impact to our funders and team. This kept our team motivated, and supporters happy to help again. A lot of great initiatives don’t share the amazing work they’re doing – we found that sharing our story always helped!
In retrospect, we would save so much time if we engaged the right partners sooner. Don’t spend time doing things someone else does better. At first, we struggled with school outreach and permissions. Then, we began partnering with NGOs already working with local schools. This helped us focus on program delivery rather than initial outreach.
Finally, we learned that you don’t have to solve all of mankind’s problems. Whenever we were tempted to do more than what our program permitted, our quality suffered. It is important to define your program well, and not let your scope creep. Keep it simple!