A very good meeting this week. We, together with members from the Rotary Club of Leeds, were hosted by the excellent CATCH youth centre in Harehills, where we were shown round the impressive building, afterwards well fed, and generally looked after by the young volunteers.
We were then allowed to use their state of the art video conferencing and Zoom facilities, to hear John Miles, a trustee of the Rotary charity Global Sight Solutions.
John last visited our club in February 2017 to tell us about what was then the Rotary Club of Guildford Eye Project, which aimed to tackle avoidable blindness in the developing world. Impressed by what we heard, we donated £500 towards the project. This week John brought us up to date with progress.
He began by reminding us of the problem of avoidable blindness. Currently around the world, up to 650 million people are in need of eye care which they cannot afford. Around half simply need a pair of prescription spectacles, but there are many millions more suffering from cataract problems and a range of other retinal issues, such as diabetic retinopathy, river blindness, trachoma and glaucoma.
The Rotary Guildford Eye Project, now rebranded as Global Sight Solutions, is an inspired response to this problem. Founded in 1994, it is a charity administered entirely by Rotarians. It works with rotary clubs at home and overseas to establish fully equipped and financially sustainable eye hospitals which provide a full range of eye care, free to the world’s poorest. The trustees and ambassadors take no expenses from the charity. All donations are applied for the benefit of the charity.
The charity’s first hospital opened in 1998. A further 27 had opened by 2011. As a rotary charity it is able to obtain generous grants from the Rotary Foundation.
Because of what John calls ‘the wonderful arithmetic’ of the Rotary Foundation’s Global Grant system, the charity is able to grow a donation of £12,000 from a number of Rotary Clubs in the UK, combine it with donations from overseas clubs, submit a grant application to the Foundation, and end up with $90,000. This is what was done with our own club’s donation. John told us that our donation was added to that of 15 other clubs in District 1040, 7 clubs in District 1145, one in District 3250, all combined to obtain a total global grant of $94,000. The money raised went to provide funding for all the necessary equipment to set up and equip a hospital in Patliputra in Bihar, down the road from Patna. The hospital opened at the beginning of 2021 and is doing good work, ‘chugging along, but yet to reach full capacity because of covid’.
The charity’s expansion has been remarkable. John told us that by 2021 fifty hospitals had been opened. Following a tour of seven countries John made with his wife Fiona, also a Rotarian Trustee, an additional ten hospitals have been pledged by rotary clubs throughout the world. Most are in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria and one in Lebanon.
When all planned hospitals are successfully launched and up to full capacity, the charity will be able to provide 180,000 cataract operations per annum. That equates with 50% of all such operations in the UK.
How do they do it? The charity raises its capital for hospitals and equipment by donations from clubs but also beyond Rotary, encouraged by Rotarian District Ambassadors and other volunteers.
Once a hospital has been set up, and outreach work in the community has been arranged, it has to be sustainable. John told us ‘the Charity’s mindset aims to create permanent 24/7 facilities for the community which each hospital serves, to ensure each hospital operates a business plan and creates an income stream to become financially self sustainable a few years down the line’.
It has proved possible to recruit highly qualified eye surgeons and other medical professionals to donate their services free of charge, in return for being able to treat their own privately paying patients in the Rotary eye hospital’s facilities. Rotary adds a small percentage to the private fees charged, to offset overheads. John assured us that the private patients are not allowed to jump the queue to the prejudice of those who cannot pay.
A Rotary pharmacy attached to a hospital, providing a full range of pharmaceutical services to everybody in the community will produce income.
In taking questions at the end of his talk, Rtn Gurminder Singh was able to tell John that following his visit to us in 2017, he himself had visited India, where John put him in touch with Binod Khaitan from the Rotary Club of Central Calcutta. Binod took Gurminder to see the Rotary Hospital of Joynagar, where most of the surgeons were from Calcutta. Gurminder was impressed by what he saw and was able to get involved on the day by helping to give out free blankets. He saw a great community resource.
At the end of his presentation, John hit us with a powerful plea for continued support.
When you go to bed each night and turn off the light, contemplate what your reaction would be if it transpired that today was the last day you’d be able to see. Similarly when that dreaded alarm clock goes off in the morning, just think for a second how you might feel if you opened your eyes and alas could see absolutely nothing. These very real scenarios might motivate you as an individual or as a club to support this most worthwhile of charities
To learn more, see www.globalsightsolutions.org
Get in touch with Roundhay Rotary Club:
0113 266 6203