Fr. George Kannanthanam
There ARE visually challenged people who are able to see and who lead a normal life like any of us. They are living a dream which they dared not dream earlier – as children of a lesser god. Their dream was born of a vision. A vision rooted in faith and driven by belief. And pursued with missionary zeal by Fr. George Kannanthanam, a catholic priest and social worker.
Fr. George Kannanthanam is a priest with a pedigree.
After doing his Masters in Social Work and Doctorate in Sociology, Fr. George Kannanthanam, the future ahead was his to choose, but he chose to strike his own path and put service before self. He spent the best years of his youth and beyond, counselling and mentoring prisoners alcoholics and drug addicts. At an age where life begins, he founded the HOPE Society dedicated to serve those people who live in the margins of society, unsung, unheard, and under the pale of everything that is needed for normal living.
For ordinary folks, a visit to the Sumanahalli leprosy centre in Bengaluru can be nerve wracking and test one’s emotional quotient. But for Fr. George Kannanthanam, it was God’s calling. He considers 12 years he spent with the leprosy affected inmates as the best time of his life.He compiled his experience in a book named THE EMPTY NEST, on the rehabilitation model for leprosy. He initiated Support Centres in Bengaluru and Belagavi to provide HIV affected destitute persons care and rehabilitation. His commitment to the people in distress led him to the tsunami affected in Tamil Nadu and the earthquake affected in Nepal.
Encomiums followed: A National Award from President of India Abdul Kalam in 2003, Mother Teresa Award for Selfless Service in 2012 and Best Citizen of Bangalore Award from Namma Bengaluru Foundation in 2013.
Shades of Mother Teresa? You bet. Bengaluru’s Kannanthanam is Kolkata’s Teresa.
Moving beyond Sumanahalli,helping to make the blind see is Fr. George Kannanthanam’s present vision, through his global movement called Project Vision.
But how can the Blind REALLY see?
Suresh (name changed), a person belonging to a poor family and visually impaired for over 25 years, had been discarded by his family and was living hand to mouth till someone unknown to him got in touch with him for a cornea transplant from an eye donor. Today he’s able to see with “fresh eyes” and is even taking care of his family as a self-employed!
The key is eye donation. But Fr. Kannanthanam is eying the larger picture, visualizing beyond the reach of what one can see in the horizon, viz. connecting every blind person with an eye donor, not just in Bengaluru or India, but the whole world, so as to “let everyone see” which is his avowed goal in life. Most people die, waiting for a transplant – around the world.
There is a sense of urgency in him when he speaks of Project Vision, but that is borne out by hard data which explains why he is restless about achieving his goal.
Let’s take Karnataka first. According to an all India survey by National Programme to Control Blindness, hardly one in two citizens in Karnataka have near normal vision and are vulnerable to prevalence of blindness. Further, while 8.5 per cent of Indians suffer from blindness, in Karnataka it is 13.7%.Can we be blind to this?
Nationally, India has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of blind populace in the world at 15 million people, out of the 39 million worldwide (WHO 2010).
Right now, Kannanthanam is focused on erasing blindness in Karnataka, and his next pit-stop is in India as a whole, eventually expanding his movement to the global level targeting a blind population that is two thirds the population of France.
It is quite frankly too big to be a gettable target, but then Kannanthanam is not just a priest delivering sermons on the weekly podium, but a social entrepreneur with a meticulously developed plan that will be the envy of a corporate czar:
# Motivate the Prospective Eye Donors with an Emotional Connect:
Typically we feel sorry or a sense of pity for the blind. That can turn full circle only when we step into their shoes. Fr. Kannanthanam hit upon the idea of a Blind Walk where we literally step into their shoes – i.e. blindfolded.
Imagine how you would feel when you take a hundred steps blindfolded. While you quake and quiver over every step, you are led by a blind person, taking confident strides ahead of you and guiding you all the way!
Project Vision’s Blind Walk concept is a moment of awakening for the participant. You will never feel the same again. And you will be moved to take that all important step – to donate your eye when Father Time calls on you. One step at a time, for every participant – and the Blind Walk can be a potential Deliverance for the Blind. Incidentally, the world’s first Blind Walk was organized in Namma Bengaluru by Project Vision.
The Project Visionconducts Blind Walk globally in association with several organizations every year on World Sight Day.
# Link the Donors with the Donees (vision ambassadors)
The Movement may have started, but the tough part is to connect the dots in course of time. You may have pledged your eye but someone has to put the process through in quick time since cornea transplant do not happen in continuity and have to be done in a limited time-span. The shelf life is low – within six hours of death and so it calls for prompt and immediate intervention.Identifying this as the missing link in the country’s eye donation program, The Project Visiondeveloped the concept Vision Ambassador.
A Vision Ambassador enrols people for eye donation in his/her neighbourhood or within his circle of contacts. He then acts as a link between the donor and the Eye- Bank in the event of death of the donor.
The Project Vision’s aim is to have a Vision Ambassador for every 100 persons, in every apartment, office, club or layout. These Volunteers are trained and provided with a kit comprising necessary presentation materials, pledge forms, certificates, posters and so on, to ensure the end goal is met. Having motivated about 3000 people to join the movement as Vision Ambassadors, the result is already visible with about 50 persons eyes being collected, giving sight to 100 people.
#3 Extend and expand the interface between donors and donees (rural centre, etc)
If the Blind Walk concept helps to bring a direct emotional connect with the Blind, Project Vision’s rural campus at Gauribidanur, a 90-minute drive from Bengaluru is planned to provide eye care facilities for the people beyond the city.
The idea is as big and as ambitious as they come – and so typical of Kannanthanam, as he synergises the talent pool of committed citizens in the society. The scale of his vision is sure to leave you wide-eyed in awe, once it is ready.
Consider: The campus will house a MILLION EYES MONUMENT to promote eye donations from one million people from anywhere, anyplace, from all over the world, over a period of time.
To promote this monument, The Project Visionplans to create a miniature model of it which can be used as a mobile display unit and installed at any public place – malls, church, village festival, college, company office, etc.
With His Grace Bernard Moras, Archbishop of Bangalore and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Art of Living, as its Patrons, The The Project Vision(TPV) has been able to develop eye donation as a movement involving several organisations and institutions across the country. It also has support groups in USA, Canada, Srilanka, Nepal and China, since its ultimate goal is to help give sight to the blind populace all over the world.
It takes a revolution to change the world and it takes a single individual to create a revolution. As he completes his 25 years as a priest, Fr. George is on a mission to make a miracle happen: When the Blind Can See. They can, can they? The answer lies in you.