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Student volunteer from USA finds visit to Sankara Nethralaya most educative and fulfilling

I don’t think I can express in words how nervous I was the day before I visited the Sankara Nethralaya Academy. As a 15 year old girl who has not tried many things out of her comfort zone, I was certain this would be a great challenge. I had heard many great things about this foundation from my parents, and although one part of me wanted to see what this program was like, another part of me was very apprehensive. This was the first time I visited Chennai, the weather was hot, and in addition I did not know a single word of Tamil.  So to sum it up, I was almost 100% sure that I would be extremely uncomfortable both socially and physically. What I actually experienced was in fact the exact opposite of what I had predicted, and I’m still laughing at myself for feeling like I would be out of place, because I’ve realized at Sankara Nethralaya, it is impossible for anyone to feel out of place. My parents and I were greeted by a warm smile from Mr. V.Sivakumar, Manager- PR department the very moment we walked in and enjoyed the hospital tour led by Mr. A.Mahalingam, Academic Officer and Ms. C.G Sridevi from the Sankara Nethralaya Academy who had sacrificed their entire day just for us. When we went to meet Dr. S.S Badrinath, the Chairman Emeritus, I noticed how simple and humble he was, and I knew right away I had come to an amazing place.

I worked for a week with Ms. Kumari, an optometrist at the Jaslok Community Ophthalmic Centre (JCOC) and I really appreciated that she took the time to explain to me everything she was doing to the patient. Mr. V.Sivakumar the JCOC Administrator also inspired me to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor and he would always encourage me. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and I made friends easily. The next week when I visited the Teleophthalmology center, Dr. Sheila John, Head of the Department, Tele-ophthalmology made sure I got the best opportunities, she was extremely hospitable and ensured that I was comfortable and ate well.

The first and most interesting place I saw was the JCOC. On my very first day, I was awed by the organized process every patient went through. I observed that the patients were of limited financial resources, many were illiterate and several did not even have slippers on. I was so happy that Sankara Nethralaya was doing something so big for the patients who did not have anything to give to them in return. Although none of these patients could pay for their treatment and were uneducated, the doctors treated them with as much respect and care as some of the richest patients who came in to be tested. The friendly and hospitable attitude of the doctors and the optometrists really impressed and inspired me, and I realized why Sankara Nethralaya had such an excellent reputation. I’ve whole-heartedly enjoyed every minute I’ve spent here and I will never forget the kind people I met. In this prestigious foundation, there was not a single optometrist or doctor who did not treat every patient like family, something that I would also do if I were a doctor. Throughout these two weeks, I was able to understand that Sankara Nethralaya’s mission is not to bring themselves money and fame, but to give people from around India one of the most priceless gifts possible- the gift of vision.

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