Tibet is one of the most visually stunning places on Earth, but many Tibetans can’t see it.
Blindness is a serious problem in the developing world. Poverty and lack of rural health care means that millions of people around the world go blind because of easily curable maladies such as cataracts.
One of the organizations fighting to stop curable blindness is the Planeterra Foundation, which recently announced a fund raiser and a video contest. For the past two years Planeterra has set up eye clinics in rural Tibetan villages and performed hundreds of surgeries.
“Tibet has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world. Most of this blindness is due to cataracts, a disease associated with aging but also prevalent among children and the working class. Many are unable to reach a hospital because of poverty and lack of transportation. With scattered populations spread across great distances, surgical eye camps are the most efficient way to treat the high rate of disease,” said Planeterra director Richard Edwards.
Such clinics are very cost effective. A donation of $50 pays for cataract surgery, so if you’ve enjoyed the beauty of the Himalayas, this is a good way to give back.
If you’re handy with a video camera, check out the “Her Sight Is Worth It.” video contest sponsored by Planeterra‘s partner Seva Canada. Young, aspiring filmmakers will create a short videos about vision impairment and gender, with the grand prize winner getting a new MacBook. Three winning videos will be screened at the World Community Film Festival and be honored by having sight restored to one girl and one woman in their name.
Planeterra believes in responsible travel and through its parent company Gap Adventures runs “Voluntours” where travelers can help out in schools in Zambia, study sea turtles in Costa Rica, or assisting street children in Peru. All Voluntours include several days of sightseeing too. Planeterra and Gap Travel are co-winners of the 2009 Responsible Travel and Tourism Forum (RTTF) Leadership Award presented by Baxter Travel Media and Air Canada.
Having trekked around a lot of different countries, I’ve seen many, many people stuck in sightless poverty because they can’t afford such a cheap and simple operation. Luckily Planeterra and Seva Canada aren’t the only folks out there tackling the problem. A number of agencies are fighting blindness. When I went to the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, in 2001, there was one guru who had set up a free eye clinic and performed hundreds of cataract surgeries. It must have felt like a miracle for the patients to have their sight restored at Hinduism’s holiest festival.