Lighting Up Lives, Bringing Back Smiles

Jaimala Singh, a 12-year-old school student in Shahdol, MP, was struggling to pay attention in class and was complaining of severe headaches, when her class teacher decided to get her eyesight checked at the campus vision camp organised by Reliance Foundation

Lighting Up Lives, Bringing Back Smiles

Jaimala Singh was one of the brightest students in her class. The 12-year-old resident of Deori in Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh, never skipped classes at the government school, and was as diligent as she was disciplined. But in recent months, Jaimala’s watchful teachers had noticed her attention flagging in the classroom – she seemed to be having difficulty concentrating. What worried them even more was the fact that she repeatedly complained of severe headaches.

Jaimala’s class teacher, Shivmati, recalls, “For several months, Jaimala had been finding it difficult to concentrate in class. Every day, she complained of a headache. She was usually a high-scorer in exams, but her performance had dipped.”

Jaimala’s father, a farmer, spent hours toiling in the fields every day, with Jaimala sometimes joining him to help out. Jaimala’s mother worked hard at home, looking after her and her younger brother. While they were aware that Jaimala’s performance in class had deteriorated, they thought it was a passing phase, and failed to make the connection between her falling grades and her persistent headaches. Her teacher Shivmati, however, did see a connection. She recalls, “When I noticed Jaimala struggling to even read alphabets, I decided to do something about it. I called her to my room, and she explained that the words on the blackboard appeared blurred to her. Though I was not very sure, I had a hunch that her headaches were being caused by problems with her eyesight.”

Fortunately for Jaimala, Reliance Foundation (RF) had organised a vision health camp in her school campus that very day. Vision camps, one of the many health initiatives undertaken as part of the Foundation’s School Health Initiative, work to improve the visual health of school children by screening them for refractory errors and Vitamin A deficiency. Free optometrist examinations and ophthalmological consultations are followed by the dispensing of corrective spectacles and medicines for those diagnosed with vision conditions.

Those in need of specialised care are referred to the nearest government health facilities.

At the vision camp, optometrists checked Jaimala’s vision, and confirmed Shivmati’s suspicions – Jaimala was short-sighted (myopic). The diagnosis was met with a mix of relief and worry – Jaimala finally knew why she had been getting headaches, but was apprehensive about what the treatment entailed. The optometrist assured her that all she needed was spectacles. Once her power was checked and confirmed, the RF team at the camp helped Jaimala select frames that she liked, adjusted the power in the lenses to correct her vision, and even taught her a few eye exercises to practice at home.

Months later, when the RF team was paying a follow-up visit to the school campus, Jaimala ran up to greet them. Proudly showing off her glasses, she exclaimed, “All my friends in my school and my neighbourhood love my spectacles. I like them too! I no longer have to strain my eyes to read my textbooks or see what the teachers have written on the blackboard. I have been studying hard and am confident I will get good marks in the next school examinations. I am excited about learning more at school.” When the team met Shivmati, she confirmed what Jaimala had shared with them, saying, “She has started performing well in class again, like she used to; she no longer struggles to read, and is back to being the active Jaimala we know.”

Jaimala is one of hundreds of school-going students who have been screened for vision-related problems and fitted with corrective glasses, as part of RF’s vision to provide “Health for All” through an integrated healthcare model. Under the ambit of the Reliance Foundation Drishti project, RF partners with various organisations to bring light into the lives of thousands of underprivileged visually impaired people, by providing free corneal transplants, generating awareness about eye donation, and publishing an international Braille newspaper.