Seemingly small things, such as moments of eye contact between infants and their caregivers and very large things, such as on-going multinational charitable enterprises, can intersect in surprising and wonderful ways. My part in just such a massive effort has taken me from Argentina, by way of The United States and a position with The Essential Learning Group in Shanghai, to an orphanage Shaanxi Province, where I truly felt the importance and the potential of the work we are doing.
I received my training in educational leadership at The Perkins School For the Blind, which is an extraordinary organization. In the time since, I have maintained a relationship with them, and it was with Perkins International, their global philanthropic division, that I set out for Taiyuan to help to shape our mission.
The broader program that brought me from Shanghai to Taiyuan is called CHEER, which stands for “Children’s Healthy Eyes bring Educational Rewards.” Perkins works on CHEER with another organization called ORBIS, Helen Keller International and the Brian Holden Vision Institute, themselves major contributors to the on-going, world-historic movement called Seeing is Believing, which in turn collaborates with the World Health Organization as part of Vision 2020, an initiative to eliminate avoidable blindness world wide by the year 2020. In Shaanxi, CHEER hopes to promote the many benefits of good ocular health and possibly to promote an expansion of eye-health services for children in a Province where only 20 pediatric ophthalmologists serve a population of nearly eight million kids.
My own part of this world-changing endeavor is to visit orphanages, hospitals and special schools in Shanxi. From what I have seen so far, I can say that the opportunity to make a difference is tremendous. Within ten minutes of arriving on our first orphanage visit, my team identified nearly 100 children who could benefit in some way from our services. We observed a wide variety of disabilities, which, with support from CHEER, can be better treated.
From here, my task is to advise and to help implement practices in these orphanages that better promote ocular health and general wellbeing, particularly for children with multiple disabilities. Immediately, I identified an area of focus; when care professionals in the orphanage fed and bathed the infants in their care, they frequently overlooked the need for sustained eye contact and for affectionate touch. A change in this practice would greatly enhance these children’s capacity for interpreting eye contact with others, for feeling loved and supported and for leading easier, happier lives than would otherwise have been the case.
CHEER’s work in Shanxi is set to continue for the next five years. I expect to return there for several days in November 2013 to continue with the work we began during my recent visit.