Carnegie Mellon’s Unite for Sight chapter raises money for India

Sabrina Porter Mar 30, 2009

Tens of pounds of spaghetti were in sight in the University Center on Friday as students raised money to improve the vision of poverty-stricken families around the world. Alpha Phi Omega, the co-ed service fraternity, hosted an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner with all proceeds going toward Unite For Sight (UFS), a nonprofit volunteer organization aimed at educating people on and eliminating preventable blindness, both locally and internationally.

Lauren Campbell, a junior biological sciences major and member of Alpha Phi Omega, spearheaded Friday’s dinner in an effort to raise money for her volunteer trip to India this summer to work with a rural, poverty-stricken eye-care clinic.

According to Campbell and the UFS website, 80 percent of blindness is curable or preventable, leaving 36 million people needlessly blind.

“There’s a lot of need in this country, but it gets even more extreme when you go abroad,” Campbell said. “You know you’re directly impacting people who really need the help.”

All students wishing to volunteer for UFS in the summer are required to raise $1500 individually for the organization — Campbell hoped to accomplish this goal with the dinner.

In addition to the money, students are asked to get 300–600 pairs of eyeglasses donated to UFS and to shadow an ophthalmologist in order to be ready to assist the doctors in daily treatments, such as vital checks, screenings, and real-life surgeries including cataract removal.

Campbell spoke excitedly about how just one routine cataract removal can mean the return of sight for a person who has been blind for 40 years due to a lack of access to medical care.

While Campbell’s dinner focused on the international goals of UFS, the organization itself has multiple sections.

Alice Zhang, a junior biological sciences major and leader of the local Unite for Sight chapter, explained the difference between the two main branches of the organization at Carnegie Mellon.

“The first part, the fundraising [Global Impact Corps], is for international communities that are stricken by poverty and, in some cases, by war. One hundred percent of the funds goes to areas like Africa and Asia to promote eye care,” Zhang said.

“The second part, the vision screening and vision education, is local to Pittsburgh and something the volunteers in our organization actively participate in.”

“We are teamed up with the Guerrilla Eye Service (GES) from UPMC, which is a group composed of professional ophthalmologists, residents, and medical students.”

UFS also hosts a global health conference and, as in the case of Campbell, sends students abroad to help with their eye clinics around the poverty-stricken world.

Carnegie Mellon has a student campus representative to provide information to students on volunteering abroad through UFS.
Zhang spoke of the importance of eye treatment internationally.

“Without sight, we are crippled. We have those beeping traffic signs in Pittsburgh, and on campus there are Braille signs so that the blind can still live and work normally like everyone else, but in places like Ghana and India, no one is granting the blind these favors, or cutting them any slack at all,” she said.

Ashley Kilp, a junior science and humanities scholar, leader of UFS’s Global Impact Corps, and campus representative for international UFS volunteers, traveled abroad to India last summer and spoke highly of the experience that Campbell is about to have. “We ran clinic camps in city slums and rural villages where we would screen over a hundred people a day for various eye problems; some we were able to fix with a free pair of glasses, but others required more serious treatment,” Kilp said.

“We brought those in need of further care back to the clinic to receive treatment. I even got to scrub in on their cataract surgeries.”

Kilp spoke of the joy she felt when seeing peoples’ faces light up when they could see for the first time with the distribution of a new pair of glasses, or with the removal of the bandage from a cataract removal.

“The people were so grateful that they often provided lunch for us,” Kilp said.

“In a clearly destitute seaside village, the people who likely were struggling daily to feed themselves gave us a meal of rice and fish curry. Knowing what they had to sacrifice to show their thanks to us in that way made that the best meal of the trip for me,” Kilp said.

Upon return from her trip, Kilp became the campus representative for the international volunteering portion of UFS, providing information on opportunities to students and assisting in pre-departure advising.

Kilp also started Global Health Corps, chartered by the national organization, which holds fundraising efforts for the UFS eye clinics abroad.

Global Health Corps is new this year; despite having only a few members and currently without CoSO (the Committee on Student Organizations) recognition, it is hoping to grow.

Kilp enjoyed her experience so much that she plans to continue her international service. She is going to study abroad again, traveling to Ghana, where she will do much of the same work and also assist on a research project exploring the factors affecting high rates of preventable blindness.

To get involved, go to www.uniteforsight.com/chapter. Questions can be directed to azhang@.

Those interested in the international fundraising through Global Impact Corps or in volunteering abroad can send an e-mail to akilp@.