After working in India for over 50 years, we have some great stories to share. For instance, our 10-millionth eye treatment was performed in 1987 on 12-year-old Satish Kumar for an infected gland in his upper eyelid. But did you know that Operation Eyesight’s origin in India is also a romantic one?
In many ways, our story begins on the honeymoon of Dr. Ben and Evlyn Gullison, Canadians who travelled to Sompeta, India in 1932 as medical missionaries. They discovered 200,000 people who were blind and had no medical care whatsoever. The Gullisons founded Arogyavaram Hospital to serve the region’s health needs.
However, Dr. Ben was not an eye doctor, so in 1949 he convinced ophthalmologist Dr. John Coapullai to join their staff. But many people were too poor to afford even basic eye care. Dr. Ben returned to Canada seeking funding for his hospital. There he met Calgary businessman Art Jenkyns, who became inspired by Dr. Ben’s vision and founded Operation Eyesight.
At first, the tiny charity worked to meet Arogyavaram’s needs, such as a new roof in 1966 after the old one became infested with termites! But from those small beginnings and thanks to dedicated donors and volunteers, the organization grew to support four additional hospitals in India by 1969, assuming the full operating costs of Arogyavaram by 1970.
During these years, we focused on mass cataract surgeries to combat one of the main causes of blindness. Since then, we’ve come to realize that a world without avoidable blindness can only be achieved when everyone has access to sustainable, quality eye care, regardless of their ability to pay.
With that in mind, in 2001 we entered into a formal partnership with India’s world-renowned LV Prasad Eye Institute, initiating a period where we would work more closely with our partners, offering technical expertise with the goal of each partner reaching financial self-sustainability.
Our health care model now focuses on quality rather than quantity and stresses the importance of recruiting and training local individuals as community workers. This model is so successful that in 2013 it was endorsed by Vision 2020 India, which is encouraging its partners to adopt it.
Our donors have a direct impact beyond our 40 Indian hospital partners. One such partner is Chandra Prabha Eye Hospital. Together, we’re bringing eye care to the 150,000 people of Majuli Island, who previously had no vision services at all.
It was only a few years after our organization’s founding that we began to support projects outside India. For a long time, this work was scattered, with individual projects in Africa, Asia and South America. Today, our work outside of India is focused in the African countries of Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. Visit our website to learn more about our programs in each country.