Sisterhood in Sight: Empowering Women in Eye Health
Two sisters embarked on a remarkable journey overcoming challenges to pursue education.

To deepen my understanding of the Mission Saksham programme and to witness firsthand the transformative power of Allied Ophthalmic Personnel (AOP) training, I decided to step in the shoes of a student and attended an interesting class on “Community Eye Health” held at LV Prasad Eye Institute's (LVPEI) Mithu Tulsi Chanrai campus, nestled in the vibrant city of Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. During this class, the trainer delved deeper into the different strategies to reach more patients without compromising quality. The trainer created an engaging atmosphere by encouraging questions and thoughts from the attendees. A standout among the participants was a young woman with remarkable confidence and thought-provoking queries.

Ocean of Knowledge

After the class, I decided to have individual meetings with each student to learn about their journeys. During these conversations, I got to meet the confident young lady once again. Raj Kumari Kousalya exuded an air of confidence as she walked in, her eyes gleaming with an undeniable passion, whilst articulating what she learned from the course. The conversation leaned heavily towards the technical aspects as she explained in detail about the cornea, retina and oculoplasty. She elaborated on the intricate details of the diverse components of the eye, explaining their individual functions with enthusiasm. With each subsequent question I posed, her delight visibly increased, her face brightening with every query.

When I inquired about her exuberant confidence, Raj Kumari shared that she had travelled to several places for her education. Although this journey may have been a bit challenging, this has instilled confidence in her, and she attributed most of it towards the AOP training course. Additionally, she revealed that her sister had been her constant companion throughout this journey, including their enrollment in the present AOP course at LVPEI as part of the same batch.

Not without my sister

Raj Kumari Kousalya, aged 18, and her sister Mary Kumari Kousalya, aged 23, hail from a remote village in Rayagada, Odisha. Their father was employed as a daily wage labourer, while their mother earned a living by selling vegetables. Bogged by the financial challenges to provide for their five children, the parents were compelled to enroll Raj Kumari in a boarding school in the Koraput district of Odisha, while Mary Kumari was sent to Mumbai, Maharashtra. Thus began the journey of Kousalya sisters beyond the confines of their homes. Despite the parents' belief that sending the girls to boarding school would alleviate their financial burden, they quickly realised it was a very costly affair than they had initially anticipated. As expenses mounted, they decided to bring both sisters back home and arrange for them to reside in a residential shelter for girls under the supervision of a trusted family acquaintance in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. However, the acquaintance agreed to host only Raj Kumari, citing her younger age. Upon hearing of this arrangement, Raj Kumari insisted adamantly that she would relocate only if her sister Mary Kumari could accompany her. The girls then started planning their journey to Chennai, leaving behind their homes, and lacking any parental assistance once again.

At this residential shelter, Raj Kumari could dedicate herself to her studies, experiencing a relatively smooth journey, but Mary Kumari found herself weighed down by obstacles, forced to undertake chores such as cleaning the place, washing clothes, etc. When Raj Kumari was finishing her 8th standard and Mary Kumari was nearing her 11th standard, they were abruptly sent back to Rayagada for reasons unknown. Once more, discrimination surfaced as Raj Kumari received a transfer certificate, while Mary Kumari was sent back without any documentation whatsoever.

When paths diverge only to converge again

In my discussion with Mary Kumari, she revealed that lacking a transfer certificate left her unable to enroll in another school. Consequently, she felt obliged to remain at home and took up tailoring work. The emotional wounds she bore were evident even without her verbalising them. Mary Kumari shared that she had to restart her education from 8th standard once again and this dampened her confidence largely. She sought solace in her tailoring work amidst adversity, holding onto hope, affirming, "No matter what fate brings, one must persevere."

As hope prevailed, an opportunity arose for Mary Kumari and her sister to attend the Vision Technician course at LVPEI, Bhubaneswar. This initiated yet another journey beyond their familiar surroundings but reuniting both sisters once more under one roof.

Empowering Women in Eye Health - A Visionary Path

The Vision Technician course at LVPEI, operating under the aegis of Mission Saksham, is spearheaded by Mission for Vision and backed by the Wen Giving Foundation. With the gross lack of Allied Ophthalmic Personnel in India and its impact on delivery of eye care services, Mission Saksham aims to build the eye health workforce by way of AOP training courses. This initiative offers scholarships for candidates from socio-economically challenged communities and provides on-campus accommodation as well. With a particular emphasis on girls, the programme aims to empower more young women and cultivate a sustainable eye health workforce.

While conversing with the sisters, they both shared a common sentiment about how this course has sparked a significant transformation within them. The main highlight of this course is that it has instilled confidence in them, improved their communication, and negotiation skills. In addition to the technical skills, the sisters have gained essential life-skills that will soon render them independent and chart their road to success.

Raj Kumari and Mary Kumari both expressed joyfully how pleased their parents are to see both girls advancing in their career paths, and, most importantly, how they support each other throughout this journey. The parents are also thrilled that their daughters will soon be working for community welfare, promoting eye health among various socio-economically challenged communities, and assisting with the family's financial responsibilities. 

As the conversation came to a close, Raj Kumari conveyed a powerful message, stating,


About the Author: 

Shrikant Ayyangar is the Lead for Communications at Mission for Vision, where he spearheads the organisation’s communications efforts and plays a key role in communication strategy, website management, social media outreach, media relations, content curation and branding activities.