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In the eye of one beholder, social integration tops visual challenges

Activist K. Selvaraj’s work does not stop at creating awareness of eye donation

The numbers are mind-boggling: 1,006 pairs of eyes that have endowed 2,012 people with the gift of sight.

K. Selvaraj, eye donation activist and social worker for the visually challenged since 1994, keeps a record of his work on his fingertips.

As the city observes National Eye Donation Fortnight (August 25 to September 8), Mr.Selvaraj, who is also co-ambassador of ‘For Vision to All – BHEL’s Call’ social campaign since 2012, acknowledges that he has opted to volunteer for a cause that is both arduous and sensitive and, therefore, a bit unpredictable in outcome.

“The human eye must be harvested within six hours of death for it to be medically usable. Once preserved, it must be implanted within the next 72 hours. Convincing the bereaved to agree to donate the eyes of the deceased person is perhaps the biggest hurdle that volunteers like me face,” Mr.Selvaraj, who works as a sub-station electrician in Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited , Tiruchi, told The Hindu.

Inspired to work for the welfare of the visually challenged after he saw a documentary about their hard lives on television, Mr.Selvaraj says he realised that spreading awareness on the issue should involve a fair amount of social integration of the blind as well. “My work concerns not just eye donation, but also other issues that affect the lives of the visually challenged,” he said.

Mr.Selvaraj organises annual art, essay and poetry competitions for school children centred around eye donation, so that they will discuss the issue with their parents and friends and understand it in a more positive light.

He balances it simultaneously with social assistance for the visually challenged, such as organising marriages for them. “We want them to be recognised by society as equals, so we conduct ceremonies like valaikaapu for the visually challenged,” said Mr.Selvaraj.

Each function costs around ₹50,000 to organise. Mr.Selvaraj pools in his own funds along with contributions from friends and private donors.

He liaises with local eye banks and institutions for the visually challenged such as Organisation for Rehabilitation of the Blind in Tiruchi (ORBIT), Government Higher Secondary School for Blind and Rehabilitation Centre for Blind Women.

This year, besides the usual contests, he is planning to conduct an eye donation awareness rally in the BHEL township in Kailasapuram on September 8, the National Eye Donation Day.

A two-time winner of the Best Social Worker award from the Tamil Nadu Government (in 2007 and 2015), Mr.Selvaraj is due to retire from BHEL in eight months. Does that mean an end to his 23 years of eye donation advocacy?

“Not at all,” smiles Mr.Selvaraj. “I am determined to keep working for the visually challenged as long as I can.”

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