Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Have Never Wanted to Give to a Charity More

Honest to God.  

And, I mean, I swore I'd be in bed tonight by midnight, but here it's 1:30 a.m. and my little wheels are just spinning.  

All because I thought, "OK, I'll go to sleep by 12:20 -- just let me watch that Colbert Report I've recorded first."

So Colbert had this woman on who talked about ... well, I forget what she called it actually, but, basically, she was showing off a few inventions with massive humanitarian impact.  And one of them was this pair of self-adjusting eyeglasses.

The lenses are basically filled with a liquid, and there's little syringes on the stems.  Turn little wheels to adjust the amount of liquid the syringes force into the lenses, and it increases the curvature of the lens -- you adjust them until you can see.  Then you can lock the prescription and remove the syringes.  Presto -- working eyeglasses.  Distribute these in developing countries where there aren't nearly enough optometrists to go around and you make people see.

I immediately set to googling.  The inventor is an Oxford Physics Professor named Joshua Silver.  The glasses currently cost about $19/pair; Silver is trying to get it down to something like $1/pair.

Enter one Major Kevin White, then of the U.S. Military's humanitarian assistance program, who learns about the glasses and convinces the military to buy about 15,000 pairs and distribute them in uh, Ghana, I think it was (can't keep all the articles straight).  Reaction of the people who try them is instantaneously positive.  

White thinks -- and he's correct -- that if you get people seeing better, they can work (he tells the story of a tailor who'd retired at age 35 because he couldn't thread the needle of his machine anymore -- puts on the glasses, dials them up, and immediately walks over to his machine and starts sewing again) and they can learn.  Literacy goes up; education goes up.  These are all good things.

White starts up a 501(c)(3) called Global Vision 2020, with the goal of distributing these puppies.  The neat thing is that since you don't need a medical professional to hand them out, they want to use existing aid networks -- just train the people on the ground on how to distribute the glasses (and how to train other people on the ground on how to do it) and then, of course, there's the cost of the glasses themselves.

The operation itself is pretty new -- there's little data on it on Guidestar because the charity itself was started in 2009.  But, damn, you know?

I mean, it's funny -- there's lots of charities I'll give to every now and then ... Doctors Without Borders, DonorsChoose, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, loans through Kiva, them Susan Komen Breast Cancer people ....  And it's always hard to choose where one's limited charitable dollars should go, you know?  I mean, is fighting Breast Cancer any more or less important than fighting AIDS?  Both need cures.  But this thing ... this simple basic thing by which a $19 product can give someone in a developing country corrected vision just touches me like nothing else has.


Anonymous said...

I agree; those glasses were something else! I didn't see that they were only 19 bucks and they want to get them down to 1. With all the people who are without glasses and need them, having a few of the NGOs that you listed and some other's like Greg Mortensons CIA that builds and funds schools for children (and there's many many more) could really bring prices down quickly.

If 15k will get you $19 pairs, then imagine if NGOs that work in the field regularly ordered 1M glasses.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable! Truly a fantastic idea. Certainly bears looking into (no pun intended).

Lori said...

That is so absolutely fabulous!! I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to link to this post. People need to know about this.

nzforme said...

Absolutely, Lori -- the more folks that read about it, the better.