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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sight today, gone tomorrow…

Courtsey : The Hindu - NGX

by Ankit Rawal

Sight today, gone tomorrow…

INTITIATIVE Four youngsters are doing their bit in creating awareness on child blindness through Umang. ANKIT RAWAL


‘The sky is the limit’ they say. Manav Makhija espoused this adage right from his school days not just figuratively. He wanted to become a pilot. Having cleared the Combined Defence Services Exam, he was all set to fly high. Alas, life isn’t always fair. He was diagnosed with colour blindness and he couldn’t fly.

Staggering stats

Imagine the trauma of those who cannot distinguish between colours. Think of those who have only one colour in their palette of life. Black! India is home to the world’s largest number of visually challenged people. Of the 37 million people across the globe who are blind, over 15 million are from India, two million of which are children.What’s worth noting is that 80 per cent of these cases are curable or preventable through proper care and timely medical administration. Ironically, most of us tend to ‘turn a blind eye’ to this situation. All that we offer is a bit of sympathy.

However, it took four young enthusiastic people to be proactive in this regard and do their bit for society. They founded ‘Umang’ a Mumbai based Social Activity Group to promote awareness on child blindness.Ashish, founding member of Umang, who works at a leading investment bank in Mumbai says, “Our eyes are responsible for more than 78 per cent of the inputs received by our body. Eyes are very sensitive organs and are as important as our heart or brain. But we take our eyes for granted. We hardly get them checked up primarily because of neglect, difficulty in approachability, false perception of high costs involved and most importantly lack of awareness. Children are the worst affected because of long hours of TV, video games, lack of sleep and stress. There’s nothing like a one-to-one eye examination by a trained ophthalmologist. The limited number of ophthalmologists for a country as vast as ours makes it impossible to administer each and everyone.”

Hence, the first step to fill this gap is to create awareness among parents, teachers and society at large about child blindness and how it can be cured with timely treatment. This is what prompted Umang to run their campaign ‘Care4Vission’ ( It is a questionnaire administered by trained volunteers that is aimed at giving parents and teachers a feedback on visual health of a child. The test has been pilot tested on children in the age group of five to 16 years. It suggests further course of action in case of a possibility of visual impairment.

Ashish and his team have currently surveyed more than 22,000 students across various schools in Mumbai and have confirmed that the results have been staggering. It has not only accurately judged the visual health of the children but has also made parents and children more health conscious with regard to their eyes. Going forward Ashish says they want to move towards the slum areas especially Dharavi where the need is much more for such campaigns. Another initiative on similar lines is ‘e-strain’ (electronic strain) on the eye due to over exposure to the TV and the computer. This assumes a lot of significance in today’s world and for the new generation.

By giving tips for the eyes, Do’s and Don’ts, Eye Yoga, Ergonomics and other such initiatives, Umang Foundation is trying to spread awareness about the proper care one should take for the eye.In its short period of existence, Umang has been involved in many activities like promotion and support of the education of the underprivileged, support of orphanages, old-age homes, blood donation camps etc. Deena, another founding member of Umang, said that simple activities like singing, dancing, mono-acting etc. at an old-age home can bring smiles on the faces of the residents. She believes that a smile is never old.

Spreading out

Akshay, member of Umang mentioned that although they started the foundation with just four members and limited resources, their network is now spreading far and wide. Umang is now supported by a diverse network of working professionals, college students, doctors, journalists and a few elite citizens. Lot of people display a willingness to do something for the society, but are oblivious to the means of doing the same. It envisages providing the right platform to these people by helping them partner with NGOs and the appropriate set of people. For each activity there is an Umang champion who plans and implements it. Akshay adds that Umang aims to create a difference in the society by bringing the change we want to see in the society we live in. Truly, the initiatives by Umang seem to justify its name. Umang Foundation can be contacted at: umangfoundation@

Ankit is a II Year MBA student from S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai.

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