Blog: Joshi Mittagadapala, Eye Mitra in India
Meet Joshi – she’s one of over 7,000 Eye Mitras across 14 states in India. Eye Mitra is the world’s largest rural optical network providing over 200 million people with sustainable access to vision care. Uncorrected poor vision affects 550 million Indians and costs the national economy US$37 billion every year in lost productivity. To address this issue, Eye Mitra, a pioneering programme providing three benefits in one – developing skills, creating micro-enterprises, and tackling poor vision – was launched in 2013. Through training, skills building and livelihood promotion, the programme empowers unemployed and underemployed young people to set up micro enterprises in their rural communities. Trained to conduct basic vision screening and dispense affordable eyeglasses, Eye Mitras create access to vision care where it was not available before. Orphaned at a young age, Joshi Mittagadapala was married by the age of 18, living with her husband’s family several hours away from her brother and friends. After the marriage broke down, she was left alone, unemployed and with no money to her name. When the Eye Mitra recruiter came to her village Joshi was reluctant to apply to the programme because of her limited formal education. But inspired by her own need for vision correction, she eventually became an enthusiastic participant in the 12-month Eye Mitra training, which included both classroom and on-the-job experience.
Today, Joshi is the proud owner of an optical store in Jangaon, in the southern Indian state of Telangana, where she provides primary vision care including refraction, edging, and mounting of glasses. Included in her training were the skills needed to successfully operate a small business. Just one year after her graduation, Joshi is the top seller in the region. In addition to earning a decent living, Joshi is improving the sight of her local community through access to affordable vision care. She is also improving the lives of her customers. Take the young boy who was falling behind in school. He didn’t understand why most of the children in his class could answer the teacher’s questions quicker than he could. Feeling stupid and ashamed he sat at the back of the class, too afraid to put his hand up. The boy and his father traveled for hours to get his eyes tested in Hyderabad, but the glasses on sale were too expensive. His father had heard about Joshi’s shop and was delighted to discover she offered glasses for his son that he could afford. The boy was soon back at school, finally able to see the board clearly and answer all the questions.
Joshi provides a lifeline for many in her community. For the truck driver too afraid to tell his employer it wasn’t safe for him to drive at night because he couldn’t see the roads clearly, or a woman in her early fifties who for years had earned extra income for her family by stitching clothes but struggled to thread a needle, the gift of sight is more than just a pair of glasses. It’s a means to continue earning a living and providing for a family. One teenage girl so hated wearing the outdated frames she had worn for years that she would often leave them at home. She was delighted to find trendy and fashionable frames on offer in Joshi’s shop and selected a pair that suited her personality perfectly. For the first time she was proud to wear and show off her glasses. Joshi’s store continues to go from strength to strength. Thanks to the Eye Mitra program, Joshi is finally independent and financially stable with a business that benefits her life as well as the health and well-being of her village. Since launch, the program has undergone many upgrades – the launch of a Digital Vision Testing – Tele Refraction service where Eye MItras can connect with qualified optometrists and ophthalmologists to oversee their refraction service in real time; the usage of virtual reality to explain the retinoscopy process from an optometrist’s point of view, enhancing the training experience of the Eye Mitras; the development of affordable and easy-to-use refraction tools like ClickCheck to help optimize the services provided by the Eye MItras. Essilor aims to create 10,000 Eye Mitras in India by 2020. The success of Eye Mitra in India has also led to its expansion and adaptation to other markets in the world, such as Bangladesh, Kenya and Indonesia.