Some help came from teenage achievers Manasa and Divija Bhimaraju
If you ask 13-year-old Manasa Hari Bhimaraju why she supports Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) USA, she smiles sweetly and says, “We are changing lives.”
As she put it, “We are lucky to be born with vision and it’s not their fault [that they are not] so it’s our duty to help them.” Bhimaraju, who donated $1,000, was speaking to indica on the sidelines of the SEF gala held early this month that help raise $350,000.
She said she and her sister Divija Bhimaraju, 16, donated the money they earn at the ‘Coding and Electronic’ class they teach and run from their home.
Bhimaraju, a Cupertino resident, is best known for winning the 2016 White House Science Fair award. The two sisters also run a nonprofit Donum Visi, which means gift of vision. They earlier have donated funds to SEF that helped the foundation help 179 people with curable blindness.
SEF was first established as a small clinic in Coimbatore, India, in 1977, the brainchild of Dr. Ramani and his wife Dr. Radha Ramani. They hoped to eliminate curable blindness, and now run eight hospitals in various Indian states. Their team has performed around 1.64 million free eye surgeries to date.
The hospitals work on an 80:20 model, with 20 percent of the paid surgeries funding 80 percent of the free ones. This ensures that the hospitals fund themselves after a point.
According to SEF, India has the largest blind population in the world: 8 million people totally blind, and 55 million visually impaired. Of the total, 320,000 are children, 80 percent of whose visual impairment is curable.
The ongoing project hospital projects are in Rajasthan, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh.
SEF, USA was established by Murali Krishnamurthy, Chairman-SEF, USA in 1998 to help raise funds for eye surgeries, for building state-of-the-art eye-care hospitals across India and for eradicating curable blindness there by 2020.
Bhimarjaju believes the target is achievable.
“But the bigger problem is that not many people are aware of [the situation],” said Manasa.
According to the SEF, they have to raise $500,000 each for the Indore, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana hospitals, and $1 million for the one in Mumbai.
“We got land allotted by the Madhya Pradesh government at 25 percent of the cost at a prime location,” said Deepesh Chourey, who for the past two-and-a-half years has been working to establish Sankara in Indore. Chourey is also the co-founder and the head of engineering of Akoonu, a company focused on accounting and marketing software.
Chourey said the hospital, to be built on about 55,000 square feet of land, is to have 225 beds.
But the challenge again is the total cost. Setting up a SEF unit costs about $5 million. For the Indore project they have raised $3 million. They aim to raise another $500,000 per year at least for the next four years to meet their target. And by the end of the year their goal is to raise $500,000.
“We have collected millions, so we are very confident our well-wishers will come again,” Chourey said, “It is not a challenge… but it is exciting.”