The joy of sight restoration is a remarkable thing to witness

Imagine having your world slowly shrouded in darkness. Once, you were able to see clearly: the snow, the grass, the faces of your loved ones. But then your eyes, your windows into the world, began to cloud over, and you lost sight of that beauty piece by piece. This is the tragedy inflicted by cataracts in the developing world. And the goal of the Himalayan Cataract Project, whose offices include a team right here in Norwich, is to fix it.

The Himalayan Cataract Project, or HCP, was founded in 1995 by two ophthalmologists, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit, who pioneered a low-cost, high-volume surgical technique for removing cataracts. This is a technique uninhibited by the need for a hospital, allowing the HCP to treat people located in some of the most remote areas of the world. Originally based out of Burlington and operating under the umbrella of the University of Vermont, they began by focusing on the mountainous Himalaya region, restoring the sight of its residents one surgery at a time. In 1999, though, the organization became its own 501c3 nonprofit and began to grow dramatically until, by 2010, it had a need for regional offices in Waterbury and Norwich.

Founders Dr. Sanduk Ruit and Dr. Geoff Tabin

Founders Dr. Sanduk Ruit and Dr. Geoff Tabin

I got in contact with Communications Manager Angelia Rorison to find out more about what the HCP is achieving out of their Norwich office, and was surprised by the sheer scope. The purpose of the Norwich office, she tells me, is to house the Operations, Finance, and Communications divisions of the HCP. And as such, it features some of the organization’s biggest names.

Emily Newick is the Chief Operating Officer for the HCP, and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization, from management of the financial and accounting systems to program oversight and development.

“The direct impact of our work is so compelling to me,” she says. “Restoring sight is dramatic, tangible and miraculous, not to mention DO-ABLE and cost effective. Just imagine your life without sight.”

Jackton Downard serves as the Deputy Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives for the Himalayan Cataract Project. His role is to support the organization’s growth objectives through budget management, process development, and data crunching.

“I am humbled,” he says, “by how much impact this organization has, and it’s a huge privilege to be able to play a part in building eye care systems in the developing world. Witnessing sight restoring surgeries in Nepal, interacting with the numerous individuals it takes to build an eye hospital in Bhutan, or helping to support the training of Ethiopian ophthalmologists – it’s all very personally rewarding.”

Norwich staff members Angelia Rorison, Jackton Downard, and Emily Newick

“I may be biased,” says Communications Manager Angelia Rorison, whose responsibilities include marketing, communications, and social media, all under the purview of maintaining a consistent brand and message, “but working for the HCP is wonderful. I am constantly amazed by the stories and work that is accomplished by our in-country teams and U.S.-based staff. The best part of my job is sharing those stories and seeing people as moved and inspired by our work as I am.”

Ms. Rorison tells me that having an office in Norwich has allowed the organization to draw employees from Burlington down to the Upper Valley to take advantage of the area’s many resources. They have worked with Tuck School of Business’s First-Year Project, connected with Flannel (formerly of Norwich) to redesign and manage their website, and partnered with the Norwich Bookstore to secure copies of Second Suns (a book by David Oliver Relin detailing the story of the HCP’s founders), to name just a few.

“So many great neighbors,” she says. Ms. Newick adds: “I love the scale of Norwich with its blend of small and big – the best aspects of small town life, coupled with a richness of experience, interests and pursuits amongst its proud residents.”

Today, the HCP conducts high volume campaigns with its partners all across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and has performed over 600,000 successful surgeries, but its job is far from over.

As Co-Founder and Chairman, Dr. Geoff Tabin has stated, “It’s a travesty that we have 18 million people in our world who are needlessly blind that, with a relatively inexpensive operation, can have their life and their sight restored.”

Looking forward, the HCP is taking bold steps into the future. In 2017, it was named one of eight semi-finalists (out of 1,904 applicants) in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition. The platform it competed on was a blueprint for eliminating cataract blindness globally, taking the model of effective work done in Nepal, Ethiopia and Ghana, and scaling it up to fit the entire world. Though the HCP did not win the grant, Ms. Rorison tells me the competition nevertheless provided a major endorsement of their work and raised awareness of the solvable global health problem they have committed themselves to. As a result, the HCP team has been galvanized to aim higher than ever before, working alongside their partners on furthering education, direct service, infrastructure, and the creation of sustainable eye care systems in new and innovative ways. And the Norwich office will play an integral role. With Mr. Downard’s focus on growth, Ms. Newick’s role in operations, and Ms. Rorison’s duty of spreading the word, Norwich will be a hub as the HCP’s proven, community-based model of eye care grows to become a global cure.

Imagine that you’ve been living in a world shrouded by darkness, unable to see the people you love. You may have lost your job, your ability to get around by yourself, your confidence. But then, through one simple procedure, the light comes streaming in. How would you feel?

“The joy of sight restoration is a remarkable thing to witness,” says Ms. Rorison, “there is applause, laughter, dancing and tears of happiness. You see someone’s life change in real time.”

With each pair of eyes that are fixed, the world changes in real time, too. And as the Himalayan Cataract Project takes the helm in fixing this problem, we can be sure that there’s a wealth of change to look forward to. And we can know that an indispensable source is right here in our backyard.