Radhanath Swami visits the new setup.
Two thousand and four hundred Brijabasis and local residents of Barsana (Mathura district, UP, INDIA) and the surrounding towns and villages showed up for the Eye Screening Outpatient Camp coordinated by the Bhaktivedanta Hospital from 31 Jan - 19 Feb 2010. Every year since 2002, the Barsana Eye Camp has been conducted to service the thousands of poverty-stricken villagers who cannot see due to cataracts in one or both eyes.
Out of those who showed up for screening, 800 were selected for surgery having been determined to have mature cataracts and to be physically fit enough to undergo surgery. Out of these 800, almost 250 traveled between one to four hours from Rajastan and Harayana to avail themselves of the free services offered by the Bhaktivedanta Hospital.
The Barsana Eye Camp has utilized the facilities of the Radha Madhava Ashram located in the heart of Barsana since its inception to house the volunteers and for some of the services. This year, to upgrade and simplify, all services (Pre-ward, surgeries, Post-ward and Follow-up checkups) were conducted within the Radha Madhava compound. Only the large scale screening took place across the road in the Bereilli Ashram.
This year, Radhanatha Swami came from Bombay to see the new arrangements for the camp. He went through the entire camp, visiting each department, including witnessing a surgery. He stayed for almost 3 days, encouraging the Brijabasi villagers and encouraging the devotees who had volunteered their time.
The volunteers and hospital staff always arrive a few days prior to the camp to set up two completely fumigated and sterile Operation Theaters (operating rooms). All volunteers are trained and oriented for their services. Many of the surgical staff are medical students wanting training and experience. All doctors volunteer their time to assist the villagers, performing an average of 50 surgeries per day. In addition to these surgeries almost 60 laser surgeries were performed, using a laser machine rented from Delhi. This surgery involves “trimming” scar tissue from a previous cataract surgery, thereby improving the sight of the individual. Eight lid surgeries were also performed.
One day a woman arrived at the Camp at 4 in the afternoon telling us she had been walking since 7 that morning. She wanted to get her eyes checked. Another woman was asked if she could wait to have her surgery in 4 days. She plainly said, “I live alone with my cow. Who will take care of my cow?” She was scheduled for the next day.
In 2008 a monthly camp was also established to facilitate the ongoing needs of the villagers. Every month since then Doctors and staff from the Bhaktivedanta Hospital make the 15 hour train journey and 1 hour car ride to the small village of Barsana located some 50 kilometers from Mathura train station. At these monthly camps an average of 30 surgeries take place. There are two days of checkups and screening and 2 days of surgeries.
Barsana is a very special village where spirituality and the Vaisnava tradition of honoring Radha (and Krishna) is prevalent. Barsana is where Radharani lived as a young girl over 5000 years ago. Radha is special to everyone, even the Muslims of that town. Everyone will say “Radhe, Radhe” in greeting, to say hello or goodbye, and also to warn you if they might hit you with their bicycle.
There are no restrictions to who can avail themselves of the Eye Camp services. All the villagers are quite simple in dress and conduct, and yet very spiritual and religious whether Vaisnava, Hindu, or Muslim. All attributed their good fortune at receiving new sight to the blessings of the Lord and blessed the volunteers who helped them. The villagers were so delighted to be able to finally see. For them it was a miracle and they placed their hands upon the volunteers’ heads and prayed that they would be blessed by the Lord. It was simultaneously very rewarding for the volunteers to see the beautiful and sincere smiles of those who had regained the precious gift of sight.