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Towsontowne Rotary offers gift of sight to children of Mumbai

Peace Project benefits India’s poorest

Paulette Austrich | 6/1/2013, 10:26 a.m.
The Towsontowne Rotary Club recently announced their latest project, which will provide much-needed eye care for over 60,000 children in ...
The Towsontowne Rotary Club recently announced their latest project, which will provide much-needed eye care for over 60,000 children in Mumbai’s poorest districts. Courtesy photo

— The Towsontowne Rotary Club recently announced their latest project, which will provide much-needed eye care for over 60,000 children in Mumbai’s poorest districts. The Mumbai grant will fund the planning and implementation of a series of comprehensive eye care diagnostic clinics at local public schools and help to educate teachers, administrators and community volunteers to identify children at risk, all at a cost of only $108,500.00 or $1.80 per child.

Along with participating Rotary organizations in Towson, District 7620 (Capitol Hill), Bombay and Rotary International, Towsontowne is partnering with other major players in eye care and restoration including: The International Federation of Eye & Tissue Banks, Tissue Banks International and United to Restore Sight International— all based in Baltimore; the Khan Bahadur Haji Bachooali Hospital (founded by Mahatma Gandhi) and the Eye Bank Coordination & Research Centre, both in Mumbai.

“As crucially important as it is to save the sight of these children, this project is as much about peace as it is anything else,” says Towsontowne Rotary Club member Mahmood Farazdaghi, president of International Federation of Eye and Tissue Banks and president of United to Restore Sight International. “Already widely known in India, this project says to many that more can be accomplished by working together peacefully than by taking up arms with violence and anger.”

Roughly one-third of Mumbai’s 20,500,000 people live in slums, totaling some 7,000,000 people. Nearly 40 percent of these people are children with

little or no access to even the most rudimentary health care. Few, if any of the children in Mumbai slum areas have ever had an eye examination of any type. Many suffer from trachoma— a condition that blinds children in developing countries who are forced to wash with dirty water. Corneal blindness is the other common vision impairment, which can be corrected with corneal transplants from donated tissue.

“Ten percent of all children suffer from one form of eye ailment or another, says Farazdaghi, “from simple refractive error to the most serious of eye diseases. However, these children may also have nutritional deficiencies, which are easily detected and remedied but local leaders and educators have little ability to deal with eye ailments and no resources to alleviate the condition. That’s why this project is so perfect. Those who have the ability to treat the children, along with the equipment, donated corneas and a mobile clinic are already in place, ready to go. Our grant provides the fuel to make it happen— figuratively and literally.”

The Towsontowne Rotary grant will provide new eyeglasses to correct refractive errors; vitamin A supplements; training for teachers and community volunteers to help with on-going screening; additional equipment to facilitate field screening; and expenses for operating the mobile clinic.

The enormity of such a project with so many active participants spread out over two separate continents demands strong working relationships and a deeply shared belief in the mission. “Working together with all of these wonderful partners to bring aid to the children of Mumbai really emphasizes what can be done when people pull together as a team and embrace the spirit of cooperation and humanitarianism,” says Towsontowne Rotary President, Tanya Sher whose club was founded in 1989. The organization is part of a worldwide network of Rotary Clubs, defined by the ideal of humanitarian service.

“Can you imagine millions of children who won’t ever see a sunrise or sunset because they lacked the proper care?” says Timothy Askew, CEO of Tissue Banks International (TBI). “We are excited to be partnering with so many local and international organizations who take major steps through prevention and paving the way for people to live better lives.”