Making the Impossible Possible

June 5, 2008

I have learned that whatever conclusion you draw about India, the opposite must also be true.   I’d like to share one particular example.

Bihar is the poorest state in India.    Thirty percent of its citizens still live below the poverty line.  Corruption in all levels of government in recent decades as well as an alarming lack of foresight, investment and planning for infrastructure has contributed to an environment that has made economic progress almost impossible.  Bihar, in short, is not a hopeful place for its citizens to realize their dreams.  Oftentimes it’s these dire circumstances that rally people to fight such oppressive conditons making what seems so impossible, possible.

While in Bodh Gaya, India I had the opportunity to lend my small efforts toward an ‘Eye Camp’ which is an on-going bi-yearly event organized and funded by the Bhansali Trust.  The goal of the camp is to offer free eye exams and operations to anyone in need.  For most of the year, medical teams travel throughout the state, from the most remote villages to the largest cities, assessing eye conditions of the local people.  Those in need of an operation are given instructions to arrive at a particular date in Bodh Gaya.

Every aspect of the camp is conducted with remarkable organization and efficiency– traits you don’t often find in Bihar.  Patients arrive by bus, already having been pre-screened in their home villages.  They are given a few moments to rest in large dorms before being re-examined by volunteer opthamologists.

After they are registered and re-assessed, each patient is given a computer generated card listing their condition and the necessary surgery.  They are then quickly sorted into groups, given local anesthetic, and prepped for surgery.  In the picture below, you can just see a seated line of 30 patients, with doctors and staff waiting for the next surge.

I have some great close-ups of several lens transplant and cataract procedures which are the most common.  But many people, myself included, find the sight a bit unsettling.  I’ll spare you.  Surgeons from all over India as well as a few European doctors volunteer their time, performing surgeries that take as little as 5 minutes or, if necessary, more complicated procedures lasting several hours.  Below is one of seven wards with operations in progress.

The Eye Camp lasts 10 days and during that time, over 10,000 (that’s ten thousand) eye surgeries are performed.  The backbone of the whole operation is the 450 local school kids who are released from school to keep the whole system running smoothly.  They did an amazing job.   A small group of post-op student volunteers take a brief rest before the next group arrives.  It was difficult work:

After each patient’s surgery, they are allowed to rest one day before going through post-op assessments and released back to their families to travel home.  Below is a group of women awaiting their post-op inspection and release.  A group this size will be processed in less than 30 minutes, then the next group will arrive.  The math is astounding!

Patients are laid down shoulder to shoulder in groups of 100.  Bandages are removed and, in assembly line fashion, opthamologists check each patient.

Each patient often arrives with several family members.  At any given time there are 3,000 patients on the grounds accompanied by 1-3 family members who traveled with them.  Each participant and their family is given  three meals a day.  Below is a massive mound of cooked rice for ONE meal.  Also you can see the first family in line for lunch.

When they are finally released, each patient is given several day’s ration of food, medicine, in some instances new clothes, and a schedule describing when teams of nurses would return to their village to provide follow-up examinations.  All this happens in a part of the world where, historically, the system has been broken.  Yet, enough people with the means to make a difference have come together to accomplish the impossible.

The primary financial support of the whole operation is the Bhansali Trust.   The trust provides the financial backing because the need is obvious.  And it’s the volunteer doctors, nurses, and students who make the impossible happen.

You can support the Bhansali Trust by contacting them here.   If you are interested in more information about the trust’s activities, feel free to use the link or contact the studio.