Volunteering in remote areas wasn’t new to Dr. Crystal Kasper when she decided to join a friend in India. Having conducted eye clinics in rural Bolivia and Honduras, she was prepared for the rigors of rugged travel, intense heat, and long days. To overcome the language barrier, Crystal used an eye chart with just the letter “E” in various sizes and pointing in different directions. A translator instructed the adults and children being tested to simply point in whichever direction each E faced. “We did an eye exam every ten minutes, all day, for days,” Crystal says. As expected, many of the girls were near- or farsighted and needed glasses.
In preparation for her trip to PPES, Crystal had scoured every Dollar Store in her hometown of Denver and purchased 500 pairs of reading glasses She and her friend Lucy Howey, another volunteer, also launched a “Go Fund Me” effort that raised $6,500 from amongst their families and friends to support the vision-correction program. Along with a donation to PPES, the fund paid for prescription glasses to be made for the students and their family members in need.
Crystal was not surprised to find that many middle-aged villagers she examined were developing cataracts. As in impoverished rural villages throughout the world, many of Anupshahar’s residents were beginning to lose their sight in their 50’s or even younger, two decades sooner than cataracts typically occur in aging Westerners. Regular exposure to ultraviolet light is a major risk factor, so farm workers and other people who spend most of their days outdoors in bright sun are very susceptible to eye damage.
Before returning home, Crystal and Renuka Gupta, then-PPES’s CEO, connected with some ophthalmology groups in New Delhi. Those practices provided van transportation to bring some 20 Anupshahar villagers to their offices for cataract surgery at no cost. Since then, the number of eye surgeries for villagers has expanded. Although discontinued during the Covid epidemic, it’s hoped that the program will soon restart.
Crystal noted that one lasting consequence of volunteering at Prana Health Center has been helping to change villagers’ mindsets. “Some of the families are skeptical of sending their daughters to school. That the Center and PPES provide medical care at no charge makes the parents more comfortable with the idea.” She also emphasizes that volunteers provide another important benefit that goes far beyond dollars and clinic time. Seeing successful women in professional roles expands the girls’ awareness of the possibilities that they—as females—might also achieve.
Dr. Kasper is an optometrist in Denver Colorado.