There's a saying that next to life itself, God’s most precious gift is sight. No one knows that better than 16-year-old Om Jahagirdar of Edina.
“Since I was in sixth grade, I’ve been legally blind without glasses,” the 11th-grader says. “Once when we went on a trip to India, I had lost my glasses for a considerable amount of time. It really made me realize how so many people must have to live. I definitely could not function in any way. Imagine for people who are not as fortunate as me—they can’t do well in school, not because they’re not smart, but because they can’t see the board.”
That’s what inspired Om to start Omnisight, an international charity that aims to provide vision screenings and eyeglasses to people around the world. His work was recognized with the Edina Mayor’s Youth Commendation award in April.
While Om’s name is on the award, his brother Atman is a co-founder. The brothers did everything together, from designing the logo, to building the website and coming up with their slogan, “Striving to give the gift of vision to everyone.”“I understood my brother’s problem,” Atman says.
“I grew out of my vision problem,” and used to wear glasses regularly. The World Health Organization says three out of five visually impaired children have a completely correctable problem. More than 90 percent of the 250 million people who are visually impaired are low income and in the developing world.
“What we did to try and combat this problem was we went to a government school in India in Bangalore,” says Om. He and Atman went to the school for poor children in December 2016. They screened 80 children in grades six and seven. They did all the screening themselves using an eye chart they bought, pinhole glasses and other techniques. They received advice from Dr. Jafar Hasan, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Edina Eye Physicians.
Om and Atman’s mother, Sayali, is very proud of her sons. “Om and Atman found two students who had really bad eyesight which was correctable through eyeglasses but didn’t have the resources to buy a pair of frames,” she says. “So Om donated his old frames and from their savings Om and Atman made eyeglasses for those two students.”
Omnisight’s next project is in the small Indian town of Gadchiroli, a tribal area. The brothers are working with another non-profit called Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH). It operates vans that serve as mobile clinics that travel to remote locations in India.
“What we’re in the process of doing is outfitting these vans with the equipment to do screenings and also create glasses,” Om says. “In a lot of these areas, they don’t know whether vision is a very large problem because they don’t even have the resources to screen the population in the first place. So a lot of the work we’re doing is pioneering, and we’re getting a look at the demographics and seeing how big of a problem this truly can be.”
Om and Atman are open to any suggestions from the community about other populations who might need their help. The brothers plan to continue to expand Omnisight. Om eventually wants to become an ophthalmologist or go into medical research.
“I think vision is extremely important. It’s something I’m passionate about. It’s something I can make the biggest difference in. I think everybody should try and help in whichever way they can if it’s something they’re passionate about. And for me that’s vision and eyewear.”
To donate, visit the Omnisight website aided by the Edina Community Foundation, which has a designated fund for this charity. Eyeglass donation boxes are located at Edina Eye on France Ave. To request a donation box, call 651.666.5598.