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
"The past few days in India have been an incredible journey for SOLO. A few days ago, we had the chance to experience village life first hand. We visited a small village called Dintimeraka. Most of the people live in straw and dirt houses. Life there is so simple; they have so little, and yet at the drop of a hat they would give you the shirts off their backs. In the short time we were there, we felt like close family. They catered to us--cut fresh coconuts and gave us the milk to drink, cooked a feast and never let our plates empty, and upon leaving, they loaded up our car with fruit and snacks to eat. It is truly indescribable to see how they live, and to feel the amount of love they want to share with you.
Yesterday we toured L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad India, one of our partner organizations. We were beyond impressed with this world-class institution. It was clear why people travel to this institution to receive eye care. The walls were adorned with artwork from supportive artists, the gardens were lush and well-maintained, the staff walked around with smiles on their faces, and about 500+ patients were coming and going while others waited. In the 6 hours we spent there today, we watched an informational video, met the leaders of the various departments, toured all of the facilities, listened to a presentation prepared for us (which made us feel incredibly special), toured their School of Optometry and asked dozens of questions. It was truly amazing! The quality of care, the state of art technology, the wide array of programs and the overall ambiance--we definitely picked a gem of an organization with whom to partner!
Soon we will be traveling to their rural primary and secondary care centers. We can’t wait! Stay tuned for more information."
We’re so pumped to be featured on MSNBC! Lauren Steussy wrote an article, SOLO Eyewear: SDSU Grads Provide Glasses for Needy, where she discusses the history of SOLO from ideation to current day. We feel so blessed to get this exposure and to be able to help others through our Vision to Give. Be sure to check out the article!