Jessica Shortall, TOMS Director of Sight Giving, joined the TOMS family in 2009. She has been an integral part of helping launch TOMS Sight Giving and a vocal advocate for our Giving Partners that TOMS works with to help restore sight in 13 countries around the world. This World Sight Day, she's excited to share with you why it's important to wear your shades inside and #BESHADY. Today, she shares why we're being shady for restored economic opportunities.
It seems obvious, right? If you lose your vision, then earning an income becomes difficult, or even impossible.
Admittedly, I get really excited by impact statistics that show the increase in earning power — or in family spending (another sign of increased income) — after a cataract surgery or a pair of the appropriate prescription glasses. But when I sat down to write this post, I decided to stop and think about what this “economic opportunity” thing really feels like to the person it’s happening to.
I grew up in a family where work ethic and commitment to responsibilities were non-negotiable. My dad calls providing for us the greatest achievement of his life. Now, I’m experiencing the same pride myself: I have two children and, along with my husband, I help put food on the table and a roof over our heads. I take great pride in explaining to my 3-year-old son why my job is important for our family. Because of my family, I find so much dignity and honor in work.
It was with this mindset, as a parent and provider, that I sat down this week and re-read a few of my favorite stories from our Sight Giving Partners. With fresh eyes, I put my numbers brain on the backburner and focused on the very human experience of being a breadwinner for the family.
I stopped in my tracks when I read about Ansar, in Bangladesh, a rickshaw puller. At the age of 30, he is the only income-earning member of his seven-person family. Last year, his vision began to go hazy, and he couldn’t work anymore, which meant he couldn’t feed his family. I had to just stop and think about that for a minute. He couldn’t feed his family. When I think about Ansar in this situation, this “economic” thing stops being just about Takas (that’s the currency in Bangladesh) and becomes something much, much more. It’s about how much he loves his children, about his self-worth as a parent and about his own sense of dignity.
Ansar sought help from our Sight Giving Partner, Ispahani Islamia Eye Institute. After a thorough eye examination, Ansar was diagnosed with cataract. Cataracts, the clouding of the eye’s natural lens, account for more than half of the world’s blindness. The condition, however, is usually curable with a simple 15-minute surgery. Thanks to a TOMS Eyewear purchase, Ansar received a TOMS-supported cataract surgery to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial lens. Ansar came out of surgery with his sight restored and with new plans to drive an auto-rickshaw (often called a tuk-tuk – a small, motorized urban taxi).
After his surgery, Ansar said something that could have come out of my own mouth: “I am only 30 years old now. I still need to do a lot of work to lead a better life and give a better life to my family.”
I read that and all I can think is, what a great dad. That’s what economic opportunity feels like. How cool that we get to be part of his return to being the provider and role model he wants to be.
On October 10, join TOMS and #BESHADY for World Sight Day. Individuals with vision loss often have to give up their jobs or other income-generating activities. With restored vision also come restored economic opportunities. To learn more about TOMS Sight Giving and World Sight Day, visit www.toms.com/world-sight-day.