Unite For Sight – Goodbye Patna!

The Sinha’s ancestral home

After acclimating to Eastern Standard time and catching up on some much needed sleep, I cannot believe that I am already back from Patna. The experience was surreal. Looking back at my pictures and explaining them to my family has allowed me to really reflect on the hectic days spent at the AB Eye Institute (http://www.abei.eyemd.org/). I am eager to go back to Brandeis with my deepened appreciation for nonprofit organizations, such as Unite For Sight, and work towards my fundraising goals for a club I co-founded named Brandeis FACE AIDS. I have seen how impactful donations to sustainable charities can be, and look forward to fundraising with that in mind. I also hope to see my passion for global health initiatives grow as I enter the healthcare field, and that I will be able to intertwine my professional life with the fulfillment I derive from charity work.

Upon returning to Brandeis, I will continue to work towards a career in optometry that will be strongly driven by the positive experience working with the senior optometrist. I hope to continue to seek out mentors who will teach me that professionalism and empathy are possible regardless of the environment you work in.

Me, Dr. Ajit Sinha, and Anchal on the last day in the clinic

If another student were to ask me about volunteering through Unite For Sight I would encourage them to look into the commitment seriously. The process to become a Global Impact Fellow is a rigorous one, with an extensive application process. Once accepted, I needed to collect 600 donated glasses, complete a preparatory course and take the corresponding exams. Once finally arriving in India, I learned everything I needed to know ‘on the job’, but it required a lot of patience and my own desire to learn and become a productive member of the AB Eye staff. Therefore, I would recommend to any prospective volunteers that they take initiative and ask questions. The more work you put into the clinic and your role there, the more you get to take back with you, in the form of memories and knowledge. The eye is a fascinating organ, and in my opinion, a vital one. Without sight, daily tasks become daunting. Working, cooking, traveling, and other daily activities are exponentially more challenging without vision- making my position as a Unite For Sight volunteer that much more rewarding when restoring patients sight. Funding free cataract surgeries and giving out donated glasses to those in need was an important part of my experience. It made me feel like I was giving to the community in the most profound way.

The work I accomplished with Unite For Sight has strengthened my perceptions of social justice and the ability of a small group of likeminded people to make a difference. At Brandeis, students are taught that they are capable of righting the wrongs of the world. Watching it in action in Patna by people who see a need and meet the demands was inspiring. My experience in Patna increased my awareness of poverty and the efficacy of good hearted charity organizations.


Midway Point at the AB Eye Institute

Before beginning my internship I sat down and listed what I had hoped to get out of it. I was told that my days would be packed with patients from previous volunteers and that I should make the most of the experience, because before I know it I’ll be back in the beautiful New Delhi airport on my way home. I had a few goals in mind; things that I would hope to accomplish before my time ran out.

First, I wanted to see the differences between the kinds of healthcare disparities found in the United States as opposed to those found in developing countries.  So far I have learned that the care given to patients of all socioeconomic backgrounds and races in the AB Eye Institute is the same across the board. The only exception of the type of cataracts surgeries they commonly perform on paying patients, which is the phacoemulsification surgery, as opposed to the small incision surgery performed on the free patients. When I asked for the reason for this difference I was told that the small incision surgery was cheaper, and therefore the clinic was able to afford to provide more cataracts surgeries for the seemingly never ending demand of free cataract surgeries.

Secondly, as someone interested in the optometric field I wanted to know what the ‘day-to-day’ entails. I have been learning to ‘diagnose’ certain conditions and have successfully labeled many of them in practice. It was really rewarding to turn to the Senior Optometrist and ask if the patient has a corneal ulcer, or mature cataracts and suggest a course of treatment and be rewarded with a proud smile.

Imitating the Big Buddha
On my day off I journeyed to the holy Buddhist city of Bodh Gaya, where Buddha reached enlightenment.

Finally, having never been to India before, I was intent on learning more about Indian culture, and I am so far succeeding! As of today I have gone to a Hindu wedding reception and to the Buddhist holy city of Bodh Gaya.  Both experiences were incredibly enjoyable and simultaneously educational. I was taught interesting practices, such as touching the lower legs of elders as a sign of respect and the concept of a prayer wheel. Both experiences were a much welcome break from the busy clinic and helped me reach one of my learning goals.

Anchal, myself, and Afaque (from left to right) in the charity eye clinic in Patna City.

My proudest, and most looked forward to task at AB Eye Institute is the nightly trips to the charity clinics. The community leaders who invite us are always incredibly warm and gracious, and are constantly refilling our cups of chai. After a few overwhelming clinic visits, in which I was told to distribute glasses to the patients by pulling them out of a vast black garbage bag, I had an idea. In preparation for my trip to India, I was told to bring a bunch of Ziploc gallon bags, to hold wet clothing, or food for long trips. I brought those bags with me to the charity clinics, and began sorting the most common prescriptions into bags and labeling them. It was easy and not terribly time consuming. Once I had everything organized I was able to efficiently distribute the glasses, even allowing the patients to pick out their frames from a selection. This was not something that they would usually be able to do when offered donated frames. I believe that in making the small step of organizing the frames I was able to give patients a chance to choose what I view as a personal item, according to their own tastes. Before the ‘ziploc revolution’ a patient was given the first pair of glasses that matched the prescription written in their chart, regardless of color or style. Afterwards, a patient was able to regain control over their own appearance, and given the glasses they desperately needed but could not afford.

I am learning new things every day, and am enjoying how much more comfortable I am becoming with the set up in the clinic and the busy schedule! I am looking forward to seeing how my time with the AB Eye Institute helps me continue to grow in both academic and personal realms.

– Adi Fried

First Week at AB Eye Institute!

My first week volunteering with the AB Eye Institute has passed in the blink of an eye. I am currently in Patna, the capital city in the Indian state of Bihar, as a Unite For Sight Global Impact Fellow. I, along with another volunteer, Anchal, are excited to be helping with the everyday tasks that are necessary for the eye clinic to run effectively. My position here is to meaningfully support and assist eye clinic staff by providing basic visual acuity screenings, distributing medication and eyeglasses prescribed by the local eye doctors, and assisting in managerial tasks.

I learned about Unite for Sight through an email I received from the HSSP Undergraduate Department Representatives who were publicizing a Unite for Sight event during ‘Deis Impact. The Unite For Sight website is very informative in regards to how the Global Impact Fellows contribute to the local communities in developing countries. After a comprehensive application process, I was accepted and then the real work began. Before arriving in India I needed to complete an intensive course on the cultural differences and basic anatomy so that I could best contribute to the clinic, and I feel that it has helped me tremendously. Most importantly, the Hindi phrases that I was taught in the course are now almost naturally coming to my head when asking a patient about their history, or to move their heads in a way that allows the Auto Refractor to get a better reading.

During this first week I have learned so much! Each day was packed with patients and learning opportunities. During our time in the Out Patient Department  Anchal and I also take patient histories (In Hindi!) and give visual acuity exams. I learned how to use the autorefractor, commonly referred to as ‘the autoref’ to provide a measurement of a person’s refractive error and prescription for glasses, the results of which I was taught to read in a brief optics lessons by Abhishek, the Senior Optometrist at AB Eye. On Friday, because it was a slow patient morning Abhishek also treated the staff to some chai, my new favorite beverage of choice regardless of the temperature outside, and tea biscuits. It was really fun getting to see the staff in a more relaxed setting as opposed to the usual stress which comes with having a constantly packed waiting room with patients eager for medical attention.

On surgical days, which are Mondays and Thursdays, I watched about twelve phacoemulsification and small incision cataract surgeries on a television screen in the Operating Room. After very long days in the hospital, we drive to different charity clinics set up in community centers in different neighborhoods in need. It was really encouraging to see people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to any eye care receive medications, glasses, and cataracts consultations, so it kept me motivated and battling jetlag!

I am looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks bring and excited to continue to learn new things about Indian culture and to help the patients in the hospital and the clinic.

– Adi Fried