Exit from Darkness: Vision of the World Post-Surgery
Here at SWAP Socks, we are still a little over a week away from the launch of our Indiegogo campaign but we can’t help looking even further forward.
Our goal in the coming year, aside from getting everyone in awesome mismatched socks, is to use a portion of our proceeds to create self-sustaining programs in developing countries that preserve and restore sight by providing eye exams, free and low-cost eyeglasses, medication to cure eye infections, and other such essential eye care services.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about the people we are striving to help; what it must feel like to live years of your life in complete darkness and then suddenly be able to see. Specifically, how would your perception of the world differ from someone with a lifetime of visual experiences?
Yesterday I came across an article in The New Yorker written by Patrick House that shed some light on this question. The article is about a study done in 2011 by Dr. Pawan Sinha, a professor of vision and computational neuroscience at M.I.T. Sinha and the non-profit that he founded, Project Prakash, organize and facilitate sight-restoration surgeries for blind children in poor areas of India, most of due to untreated cataracts since birth; the largest cause of preventable blindness and visual impairment worldwide and what SWAP Socks and Seva will primarily treat. House writes:
“Sinha showed me a video in which a teen-age boy, blind since birth because of opaque cataracts, sees for the first time. The boy sits still and blinks silently, the room around him reflecting in his eyes as a kind of proof of their new transparency. Sinha believes these first moments for the newly sighted are blurry, incoherent, and saturated by brightness—like walking into daylight with dilated pupils—and swirls of colors that do not make sense as shapes or faces or any kind of object.”
Sinha, along with providing much needed eyecare, looked to answer a 400-year-old philosophical question proposed by William Molyneux. The question inquired to whether a person blind from a birth, who could determine different shapes from touch, could post-surgery differentiate the same shapes from vision alone. House goes into further detail behind the philosophy of Molyneux’s question but Sinha is able to supply an answer through follow-ups with the children who received surgery.
“The children were tested within 48 hours of their operations. The researchers placed 20 small objects similar to Lego blocks on a table where they could be seen, but not touched. Then they had the children feel identical blocks under the table where they were invisible, and try to match them with those they could see. The average performance in matching one object with another by either touch or sight alone was high, close to 100 percent. Yet when they were asked to match an object they had felt with an object seen, the average number of correct answers dropped to barely better than chance.”
The learning curve varied from case to case but within three months the average number of correct answers rose to over 80%, incredible proof of the impact simple vision restoring surgeries can have on the lives of people all around the world.
We might not have launched our campaign yet, but we can’t wait to start to chip away at the 285 million people worldwide who live blind or visually impaired, and bring the experiences Sinha describes to the places and people that need it most.
The socioeconomic impact that preventable blindness has on the developing world goes so much further than simply the ability to see. Vision leads to education and the ability provide for family and community, facilitating a rise out of both poverty and darkness.