We hope you’re getting excited about the Summer! We sure are at SOLO Headquarters! Over the last few months we have been preparing to release our new line of sunglasses, and we are excited to announce that they are here! Please meet the new frames in the SOLO family.
Any of the new frames in the family can be purchased on our website or in our retail locations. If you prefer to see them in person, you can drop by the “SOLO Summer Social” tomorrow, June 21st to purchase a pair in person! The event is going to run from 5-7 pm at the W Hotel Sky Beach Lounge in downtown San Diego. Entry is free- so stop by, listen to some live music, support our mission to give and come check out our new line!
Have you noticed more people riding their bikes lately?
That’s because May is National Bike Month. With June just around the corner, there are only a few days left to get in on it.
Here are a few ideas to get you stoked.
Have fun knowing you’re emitting zero emissions and staying healthy!
SOLO wants you to get outside and ride your bike!
On Thursday, January 19th we hopped in the car and traveled 3 hours from Chennai to Pondicherry. After months of correspondence, we were going to meet Dr. Venkatesh, Chief Medical Officer, and his fellow staff at Aravind Eye Care System. “Founded in 1976 by Dr. G. Venkataswamy, a man known to most as Dr. V., Aravind Eye Hospital started as an eleven bed hospital manned by 4 medical officers. Dr. V. saw the potential for what Aravind is today, one of the largest facilities in the world for eye care. Over the years, this organization has evolved into a sophisticated system dedicated to compassionate service for sight. The Aravind Eye Care System now serves as a model, for India, and the rest of the world.” We were excited to meet the staff behind such an impressive organization.
We arrived at Aravind, a huge campus of buildings. The scenery was beautiful, at least we thought so. After talking with staff, we learned that a cyclone had passed through a week prior and uprooted most of their trees and destroyed their gardens and vegetation. Their employees had spent significant time cleaning up the debris left from the storm. We learned that Aravind Eye Hospital is a self-sustaining community. All water is recycled and filtered on-site, gardens located throughout the property provide fruit and vegetables for all of their meals, and all of the physicians and nurses live in apartments less than one block from the main hospital.
After walking through the entrance and down one of the main corridors, we met Mr. Poobalan, Administration Manager. He sat with us and told us about his experience with Dr. V. Mr. Poobalan had the opportunity to work with Dr. V for a few years before his death. In that short time, it was clear that Dr. V’s impression on Mr. Poobalan was not only a lasting one but completely life changing. Mr. Poobalan stated, “Dr. V was a hard working man of principle. His hands were disfigured from arthritis but that never slowed him in his work. Dr. V was a highly regarded man; he made everyone feel special. If you were to schedule a meeting with him, by the time you sat down with him Dr. V would know your entire life story. He would have researched you and found out as much about you as possible. After seeing his dedication to work, I was inspired to do the same. I left retirement and dedicated the rest of my life to helping others through my work here at Aravind.”
Priya walked into the room. A young lady with a bright smile, she informed us that she would be our tour guide. We started the tour by watching a short documentary on Aravind. About half way through, Priya turned off the documentary and informed us that Dr. Venkatesh had just called and requested that we join him in the Operating Room. Craig and I looked at each other and smiled… we weren’t expecting to have the opportunity to go into an operating room…this is going to be cool!
We walked through the long hallways and ventured upstairs where all of the operating rooms were. We changed into scrubs and flip flops and entered the OR to see our first cataract surgery. Dr. Venkatesh had joined us and was giving us a step by step play of what we were about to see. Two patients were lying on tables with blankets covering their bodies. The ophthalmologist was operating on the first patient’s cataract. Her eye was displayed on the monitor in the operating room. We were able to watch every step of the cataract surgery… 7 minutes later, the ophthalmologist was done and she had begun operating on the other patient. Right after finishing the first cataract surgery, the nurses sat the patient up and walked her out of the room. I was amazed. Dr. Venkatesh walked over and picked up the cup that was holding the cataract. He asked me to touch it. I did and was amazed at the size and consistency. The cataract was like a small, oddly-shaped rock. Apparently, this one was quite mature which is why it required 7 minutes to be removed. Typically, Aravind physicians can perform cataract surgeries in less than 5 minutes. We were amazed.
We finished touring the other operating rooms, watching cataract surgeries and learning about the process of delivering high quality care to a high volume of patients. For the next 2 hours, we toured the campus, seeing hundreds of patients coming and going. We then joined the staff for lunch in their guest house. We learned about their daily routines, their passion for providing eye care and their dedication to Aravind. Each physician at the table worked a minimum of 6 days a week. They told us about their training efforts to teach physicians around the world about the Aravind model. The physicians frequently traveled to satellite hospitals in Africa. They shared their experiences with us and we sat there like sponges….absorbing every piece of information that flowed through their mouths. After eating and having great conversation, it was time to travel to the primary care center 45 minutes away in a nearby village.
Upon arriving, we were greeted by the 2 staff members at the center. It was a tiny room tucked away in a building. Pigs and cattle were roaming around outside. Patients were slowly walking in and out of this small, 10’ by 10’ eye care center. We conversed with the staff, inquired about their services, protocol for treating patients with various needs and their training with Aravind. We walked into the eye exam room and found a computer set up with a webcam…. Telemedicine? No way! In the middle of a rural village in India, inside of a tiny eye exam room, medical staff were taking advantage of up and coming technology to deliver more efficient health care to their patients. Awesome. Aravind is truly dedicated to its mission.
Craig and I left with a whole new level of confidence in the impact SOLO will have in the lives of others… we had formed partnerships with two amazing organizations – L.V. Prasad Eye Institute and Aravind Eye Care System. Our Vision to Give had just begun.
Recently we sat down with the founder of LV Prasad Eye Insitute, Dr. Rao. He gave up a good life as a doctor in the U.S. to come back to India and help prevent the blindness among the poor.
Dr. Rao risked his life to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the quality of life for the poor, while concurrently setting a higher standard for underdeveloped countries worldwide.
Dr. Rao is a remarkable man. We were told that a prominent political figure in India had called him and asked to be seen. Dr. Rao replied, “Sure we can see you, but come on a Sunday so that you don’t disturb my other patients.”
His institute has serviced over thirteen million people to date and prevented nearly 200 thousand people from going blind.
His poor patients don’t pay anything. They receive the exact same quality of service as his rich patients who pay top prices.
“Starting out, everything we did was unheard of; people told me I was crazy and that it would never work,” said Dr. Rao.
A humble man, every year he speaks at the top conferences across the globe, but still flies economy.
Dr. Rao told us of his endeavors with the LV Prasad Eye Institute. He wanted a hospital that focused on the people in it. He felt things were sort of backwards in other institutions and sought to fix that. For instance, in India it is customary to address elders, professionals, doctors and politicians as sir or madam. But Dr. Rao insists that in his institution only the patients are addressed with that courtesy.
Dr. Rao worked hard to establish the institution in a different way than others had in the past. He said that in India it is common to bribe the government, but he decided never to go that route to avoid becoming a “pawn in the government’s hands.”
“I’m a beggar with a bow tie. I believe that money is not a hindrance,” he said of himself.
Because of his “unconventional” ways, many elite people were upset with his approach. He said that politicians with armed guards would come to the hospital expecting to be treated better than the other patients, and upset that everyone was equal in the hospital. Dr. Rao even received bomb threats over the phone.
Yet, he believed in giving eye care to everyone who needed it and wouldn’t let anyone stop him. Everything he does is to benefit his patients, his number one motivating factor.
On his desk were two books. Before leaving, I asked him if he found much time to read. He said not really, however, recently a man came to visit with him. The man heard that Dr. Rao’s eye hospital provides free food for the visiting poor patients.
Ten years ago, this man had invested some money, which recently matured to one hundred thousand rupees. He donated all of that money toward the food that feeds the poor.
Dr. Rao said that this man was poor.
“He could have used the money to improve his quality of life, but he gave it,” said Dr. Rao. “This means more to me than the millions that the rich people donate. These are the kinds of things that inspire me. You guys inspire me.”
We are proud to have Dr. Rao as a partner and hope to have as great of an effect on the world as this amazing man.
Over the past few days we have met some remarkable people, and have heard some incredible stories.
After visiting the school, we went with Jachin, our L.V. Prasad Eyewear Institute guide, on a house call to check on a patient. After traveling about 45 minutes out of the way on tiny dirt roads through terrifying traffic (which consisted of pedestrians, cyclists, livestock, rickshaws and cars), Jachin announced that we’d arrived.
We jumped out of the van and I glanced down this small dirt road to see a man with a walking stick. Jachin quickly filled us in. We were about to meet Venkataya, a 38 year-old man who recently went blind. LVPEI had assigned him a “Vision Guardian” to teach him how to be independent. His Vision Guardian was a very shy, young woman. Despite her mild temperament, you could tell she had a profound impact in Venkataya’s life. She was teaching him how to navigate his village, determine amounts of currency, but most of all she was giving him hope.
Jachin informed us that Venkataya’s wife took their two children and left him because he was no longer able to provide for them. We asked Jachin if Venkataya would ever “see” them again. Jachin said, “We must teach him a new trade so he can start earning. Once we do, I will find his wife and children and we will try to bring them back.” We know Jachin will deliver on his promise.
After spending some time with the man, we got back into the van to visit a secondary care center.
The building was nice, but what impressed us the most was the tenacity of the patients. We met one man who was recovering from a cataract surgery he had earlier that morning. A staff member translated for us. We learned that the man had a severe cataract that caused him to become blind in one eye nearly a year ago. He was unable to work in the field due to the vision loss. He had another cataract that affected the vision in his left eye. He expressed that he most looked forward to working again after he recovered from the surgery.
“I could manage if I lost a leg. Losing an eye is different. I need my eyes to work,” he said.
We met another woman with a severe cataract in her right eye. She was using the wall as her guide. She had no vision in her right eye and you could see the cataract developing in her left eye. The lady was scheduled to receive a cataract surgery that day. She was terribly nervous. We tried to speak with her.
The staff member asked her, “What do you look forward to seeing when your surgery is completed?”
“Anything,” she replied.
Her life was about to change. She was blind in that moment but fortunately, LVPEI would restore her vision in a matter of hours through cataract surgery, absolutely free of charge. Even her medications and post-op treatment and check-ups were free as well.
SOLO Eyewear is privileged to support such a great organization. Through LVPEI, we were able to fund 25 cataract surgeries for people in need.
Our next stop will be Aravind Eye Care System in Pondicherry where will be able to fund 67 additional cataract surgeries.
We owe every bit of this journey to you. Thank you for supporting us!
"Our trip in India has continued to impact us in ways we never imagined possible.
We went to the village of Turugudi to explore L.V. Prasad Eye Institute’s rural program. LVPEI is able to operate efficiently in rural areas through their primary and secondary care centers. The primary care centers are generally staffed by one vision technician who has been trained by LVPEI and can assess eye health and prescribe eyeglasses for those in need. 50 percent of their patients are provided with glasses free of charge. Should anyone with a more serious eye condition visit the primary care center, he/she would be referred to a secondary center to see an ophthalmologist. It’s incredible.
Our first stop of the trip was to a primary care center. We entered the doorway and watched as the vision technician administered a vision test to an older man. While helping him, a young girl and her father walked in to pick up her new eyeglasses, which were provided to her absolutely free of charge. In a matter of just 10 minutes, we were able to see the value this small 8’ by 8’ primary care center provides for the people of this community. Children are able to see the chalkboards in their classrooms, adults are able to work more productively, all because LVPEI provides them with access to eye care and prescription eyeglasses.
After visiting the primary care center we set out to visit a government school. We passed a large field with a rectangular building near the outer edge of the property. There was dirt all around. In the middle of the land amongst the trees were about 60 children. Suddenly our car turned and I realized we had arrived at the school. It was exam time and the students were sitting quietly in the dirt completing their tests.
We got out of the van and went into the “Staff” room to converse with the teachers. We learned about LVPEI’s efforts to screen the children’s vision. We learned that nearly all of these children had never had their vision tested before and a substantial percentage would likely need prescription eyeglasses.
When we went into the classroom, all the children were quietly seated on the floor. There were absolutely no desks. One of the vision technicians demonstrated a vision test in front of the class. Jachin, our LVPEI guide, told the children about the importance of vision, eye care and eating foods rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A. He then introduced us, and told the children about SOLO Eyewear. He told them that we were there to help them see. Goosebumps.
In less than one year, SOLO went from being just an idea to actually making a difference in the world. We are in awe of this whole experience and are tremendously grateful for being able to experience this."
More updates to come!
-The SOLO team