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Meeting Communities as they are on Indigenous Peoples Day

Published: 09.08.2017

On International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples, Kate Moynihan, Executive Director Seva, writes about their diversity and work with indigenous communities. 

A smiling child holding a half-eaten water-melon
A smiling child/ Photo credit: Jon Kaplan

Seva is an organisation committed to helping people see. And we are also committed to listening.  Carefully.

For all of our 40 years, we at Seva have worked hand-in-hand with indigenous communities across the globe. Seva has evolved into a collectively-guided experiment in creating community internationally. We work with local people in more than twenty countries, combining spiritual invocation, personal consciousness and public action to achieve considerable results in areas with limited economic opportunities. Our model is successful because we truly see and hear the people with whom we engage.

Seva board members, partners and staff don’t look the same, share a religion, or even share a country of origin. From the outset, the organisation is rooted in a celebration of diversity and the firm belief that every community has the interest in – and the ability to – meet the needs of its own people with the right training and guidance.

Despite the success of our capacity-building work and direct services around the world – there is still more work to be done.  Just last week, a report from The Lancet Global Health was released that states that by 2050 global blindness will triple. The report also notes that the vast majority of blindness could be avoided or treated, and the need for affordable solutions is acute.

The report was not news to us, rather it shines a light on a growing problem that deserves attention. Accessible and affordable solutions are cornerstones of our work. Kewa Pueblo Health Corporation, Seva’s New Mexico partner of three years, has increased access and affordability of eye care services and increased the number of patient visits by 350%. Today, Kewa Pueblo is positioned to offer eye care services to nearby pueblos that lack access to eye care services. We are now working together to expand services to rural areas of New Mexico – Kewa Pueblo is conducting a pilot project that aims to establish specialty eye care services using proven telemedicine technology. If successful, this model has the potential to reach thousands of indigenous people living in rural areas without eye care services.

Our partner since 2004, Visualiza is a leading eye care system in Guatemala with hospitals in Guatemala City and the rural Petén region. Visualiza works to prevent and treat blindness caused by major conditions including cataract and refractive errors with stunning success. Think about this – with only 2% of the nation’s ophthalmologists, the organisation performs over 20% of all cataract surgeries in Guatemala, and provides private care alongside free vision services for their low-income patients.

Today’s indigenous communities live in a world with vast discrepancies in access to wealth, sanitation and healthcare. At Seva, we recognize the commitment of many to retaining local traditions, practices and beliefs while also benefiting from modern science and medicine. Our purpose is, and has always been, to support the communities with which we partner to do all of these things, and to create self-sustaining eye care systems in the process.

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