As a Canadian who is in constant touch with people in India and Africa, I frequently deal with differences. My friends and family often ask about my experiences of working with people who speak different languages, or who use the same language as I do, but often mean very different things. It is a challenge that I enjoy, and it’s fun to talk about it.
As Director of Policy and Planning for International Programs, most of my international relationships are maintained by phone or email. How did we ever manage without the internet? I have been to India and Africa, and I can confirm how rich and diverse these places are. Yes, there are language and culture gaps between my world and theirs, but the bigger gap is one of prosperity. Those with limited means, the poor of the tropical world, struggle with life-and-death issues that I can only imagine.
How do they manage? It’s all about family – the way that mothers, brothers, uncles and aunts all look out for one another, from the youngest to the oldest. For many, their social safety net is each other.
Someone once asked me if the poor of India are sad. I can’t answer that question, but I can say that many of the people I’ve seen on the streets of Mumbai or in the slums of Hyderabad are industrious and highly motivated, regardless of their station in life.
Imagine being really poor, living under a tarp by the side of the road and then one day, making enough money to move into a hut with a solid roof – that’s progress! Family forms the foundation of their lives and these people often make great sacrifices for one another – they take nothing for granted.
Yes, there are differences between Canada and the developing world, but family is important everywhere. Here in Alberta (and also in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Ontario), we even have a statutory holiday called Family Day, which occurs every year on the third Monday of February. If you’re celebrating it this weekend, we hope you enjoy the extra time with your family.
At Operation Eyesight, we’ve come to see that family and community – social interconnectedness – is the key to addressing the deep issues behind visual impairment and other health problems. Right now in India, we are hiring people of limited means, and training them to work alongside their neighbours in the poor sections of urban and rural India. Using their own social networks, these Community Health Workers are conveying the message that blindness is not inevitable, so that people get the help they need. In this way, entire families, neighbourhoods and villages are helped to grow in health and prosperity.
To learn more about the places where this is happening, visit the Programs and Projects section of our website. We’ve updated several program descriptions and progress, such as this and this, to reflect our growing commitment to blindness prevention through community development. Have a look and let us know what you think by leaving a comment below this post!