Barsana Eye Camp

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Barsana Eye Camp is the free annual cataract surgery camp run by the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Barsana, Mathura District in India. The camp serves people residing in Barsana and the surrounding 120 villages, who due to extreme poverty and lack of medical facilities often lead a life of blindness caused by cataracts which are otherwise easily treated.

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Bhaktivedanta Hospital operates from Mumbai in Maharashtra state, India. The hospital provides surgeons and support services to make the eye camp in Barsana possible. This month, January 2008, the 16th annual eye camp will provide new lives for thousands of people currently affected by cataracts.

Cataracts are a clouding of the clear lens in the eye and is one of the leading causes of vision impairment in the world. While cataracts are more common occur in those who are older, they can develop in younger people as well. Some babies are even born with cataracts.

Although in the early stages cataracts may not cause any vision problems, the most common symptoms include blurred vision, sensitivity to glare, distorted or double vision in the affected eye and a feeling of looking through a veil or curtain.

Barsana is said to be one of the place where Srimati Radharani spent her childhood. Around 20 kilometers from Govardhana, Barsana is associated with incidents from Radha and Krishna's Lila.

The Barsana eye camp is staffed by qualified ophthalmologists from Mumbai, doctors, nurses and many volunteers from various fields who all take a break from their respective engagements and make themselves fully available for the camp working for more than 10 hours unpaid.

In 2007 the Eye Camp was conducted at Radha Madhav Ashram in Barsana. A team of 17 ophthalmic surgeons from Mumbai came along as did 40 doctors and 270 volunteers. Everyone worked steadily day and night from the 1st to the 16th of February. During the first few days, 2,536 patients were examined at the "Out Patient Department" and 611 patients underwent eye surgery on site. 31 patients were selected to be taken to Mumbai for more specialized surgery.

Dr. Saxena, Chief Medical Officer of Mathura district and other officials visited the eye camp to express their appreciation of the hard work of the doctors and volunteers. Various local newspapers and national TV channels like India TV, NDTV and Neo TV covered the eye camp.

The villagers in Barsana district live very simple lives, illiteracy is high and poverty prevails. There is only irregular public transport and access roads are very poor. Medical facilities are scant, with more than 30,000 people having no access to hospital. Local incomes are so low that many are deprived of even the most basic care. Cataracts affect both the elderly and the young. Unable to afford medical help, many villagers are partially or totally blind.

Organised by Bhaktivedanta Hospital every year since 1992, the Barsana Eye Camp is free for all the villagers and each year thousands arrive seeking help. Waiting for up to three days to be seen, they came from all over and by all means of transport in hope of having their vision restored.

Dr Vivekanand Shanbag, chief co-ordinator of the eye camps, says when he first visited in the late 1980s there was a medical center with a pharmacy but no doctor. "A very miserable situation," he said. "We thought why not have an eye camp here."

At the camp many surgeons spend 12 hours per day examining patients and operating on them. One of the volunteers, Dr. Abhijeet Desai, was impressed by the camp "from the day I came things were so organized that I felt like actually working out here," he said.

Generally patients stay for three days and all amenities are provided for both the patient and their family. At the end of the stay each eye patient leaves with 40 days worth of medicine as well as dark glasses for their recovery. Patients needing further surgery are sent to the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mumbai, free of cost.

Sukhavaha dasi was a volunteer at the Barsana eye camp in 2007. What follows is an excerpt from an email to her friends at home: "I didn't know what I would experience, I was in a little culture shock because the life in Barsana, which is 40 kms away from Vrindaban, was so very rural and so very simple. Vrindaban seems like a bustling guest house compared to the village of Barsana."

"At the camp I was asked to help in the ward where patients come to stay for one day after their operation. I assisted in serving them prasadam. I also helped some to the bathroom. Since I didn't speak their language, I learned a new language, one of sensitivity, empathy and love. I comforted them and sat with them and they were very simple.

"In the following days it rained for almost the entire time. There was a condition of lots of mud and large puddles and small lakes of water in the road. I was very glad to have brought my long underwear and long sleeved shirts and jackets and scarves, I used every single one of them."

"When the patients were being discharged they were in a mood of so much appreciation. They would touch our heads and say 'Radhe, Radhe' and 'Jaya Shree Radhe.' They were very respectful and you could look right into their eyes and see so much gratitude and love, it really melted my heart."

"The other part that really touched me was the love and dedication of the volunteers. Most had 12 hour shifts and we operated for 24 hours at a time. There were two shifts of doctors. To see the service attitude and the team work of the devotees, and to experience the simplicity of Barsana, very much reminded me of the early days of New Vrindaban and how simple and loving and devotional it all was."

"To see how everyone dealt with the rain when some operations had to be moved and sometimes we could not use the outside tent. Everyone including the Brijabasi patients just adjusted. The electricity would go off at least 3 times a day and we had to turn on the generators for light. It was amazing to see how no one was shocked or fazed by any inconveniences but just kept going."

"We had nice prasadam meals 3 times a day, all cooked on large wood stoves. The mood of simplicity that was there just entered my heart. To some extent I was even relishing the mud. I made many friends with the devotees that served there and each one of them was so kind and loving towards me. Eventually I didn't want the camp to end."

If you do nothing else please visit the web site at www.barsanaeyecamp.com and watch the video. At the web site you can donate money which will be put to great use at the Barsana eye camp. You can use the contact form and offer any other services that may be of help.

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