Nethralokana Sathkara: Reminiscing Vision Care’s Silver Jubilee that opened eyes and impacted lives

December, 5, 2017

If you’ve been through Town Hall, you may have noticed a large, modern building emblazoned with ‘Vision Care’, almost opposite the old Eye Hospital. One of Sri Lanka’s largest optical retailers, Vision Care has been in business for 25 years, and celebrated their silver jubilee just a few months ago. The company decided to celebrate by doing what they do best: improving people’s eyesight by providing those in need with free eye consultations and spectacles. From April to July, the company conducted comprehensive eye tests around the country and distributed 25,000 spectacles free of charge.

25 Multiplied a thousand times

It was already decided that the anniversary celebrations were to be grand. How grand, was the question. With this in mind, Vision Care immediately launched Nethralokana Sathkara, a project aimed at providing high quality eye-care to thousands of Sri Lankans who were in need of them. From April to July, the company conducted comprehensive eye tests around the country and distributed 25,000 spectacles free of charge.

Just before launching the event, Vision Care CEO Dasantha Fonseka stated that the Nethralokana Sathkara was a momentous project for the company.

“We wanted to mark this occasion by reaching out to deserving people in the country, and help empower their lives through what we do best, enhance vision,” he added.

That was precisely what the organisation proceeded to do. The project was rolled out in mid April, across six major cities in the country—Galle, Kandy, Kurunegala, Anuradhapura, Jaffna, and across Vision Care network in the country. The initial phase called out for applications, followed by a comprehensive eye test for the selected applicants a few weeks later.

Dedicated to making the project a success and to reach as many people as possible, the team at Vision Care spent over 2000 hours on organising and planning it alone. The testing and glass-making procedures took approximately 16,000 hours in total. The applications of 26,589 people were accepted - slightly more than the 25,000 plan.

Looking back

Spread across three months, there’s no doubt that the project was a resounding success. In order to reach more people and make the most of the project, all 40 of Vision Care’s branches that were established around the country got involved. Six large scale testing events were held in the selected towns, followed by the awarding ceremony in which the beneficiaries were gifted their new spectacles.

Needless to say, people were thrilled. They got to know of the event through numerous ways: from their grama seva officials, to unions, and from newspapers.

Nageshwari, from Arali, said she was unsure of what the service would be like and how they would have been treated. However, these fears were dispelled. “Once we got here, the way we were treated exceeded our expectations,” she enthused.

Another applicant stated that the staff spent an inordinate amount of time and patience to check his eyes to ‘ensure that a suitable spectacle was prescribed to me.’

This was not just for the old and frail—hundreds of school children had never thought of getting their eyes checked but somehow managed to get through every day in school with blurry vision were also beneficiaries.

Given that the selected applicants were those who were not financially well off, this endeavour not only provided them with expensive eye-care for free, it also spread awareness about the importance of getting regular check-ups.

The Sri Lankan Government intends to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020 under the project Vision 2020. Likewise, Vision Care’s project also targeted this, especially as they educated the applicants about avoidable blindness and how a simple eye test could resolve long term complications.

Having impacted over 25,000 families, Fonseka believes that the initiative ‘turned out to be a platform to create much needed awareness and education about vision impairment and preventable blindness among Sri Lankans.’

However, it wasn’t all sunshine and flowers—the team had to deal with unexpected challenges, especially those caused by adverse weather. Working extended hours, they had to think on their feet and improvise, often at the last minute. Cancelling wasn’t even considered: when faced with rain in Jaffna and Galle on the very day events were scheduled in the area, they managed to relocate to a more suitable venue within the same day and then proceed as planned.

Managing a team of over 500 people, taking care of logistics, organizing large scale eye-tests and  gifting ceremonies across six parts of the island wasn’t an easy feat—but it was an immensely rewarding one. Mingling with thousands of families, the staff learnt of the beneficiaries’ trials, tribulations, and happiness. They experienced heartfelt gratitude, and what a large difference they were able to make in improving another person’s life.

Nethralokana Sathkara Project Chair Chamila Welikala recounted how they were able to improve the sight of a 40 year old woman who had never had her eyes tested before. Even though she was partially blind and the glasses helped her eyes only marginally, the clarity she got from being able to see at least that bit better filled her with joy. Welikala has many more stories, all of them capable of pulling your heart-strings.

Looking back, it wasn’t just a 25th Anniversary Jubilee for Vision Care. It was a life changing moment for 25,000 families and the company.