SparkOpportunity Winner: Anushka Das & Aleena Ashary
ANUSHKA DAS, 20 & ALEENA ASHARY, 19 - NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Anushka and Aleena, classmates at Tulane University, designed a program to provide free, comprehensive eye care to New Orleans public elementary school students in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Their entry is one of five winners of the SparkOpportunity Challenge Youth Award.
Here, Anushka and Aleena share more about their project in a Q&A with SparkAction.
What is your idea? NOLA Eye Care seeks to set up camps that provide free, comprehensive eye care by certified doctors twice each academic year to public elementary school students. Vision stands as one of the most integral components of successful child development, but many medical eye services are unavailable for the uninsured in New Orleans because of the loss of Charity Hospital after Hurricane Katrina. Many families are unable to provide proper healthcare for their children, impairing students' abilities to learn. Furthermore, NOLA Eye Care provides assistance to students diagnosed with serious ocular disabilities by arranging a discounted consultation with a nearby hospital.
Are you currently a student or working? Both of us are students at Tulane University. Aleena is a double major in Philosophy and Mathematics and Anushka is a double major in English and Cellular/Molecular Biology.
Why did you decide to submit an idea to the Challenge? NOLA Eye Care is an up-and-coming venture that began in January 2012. After visiting the local schools in New Orleans, we realized that the camps need support and funding in order to be organized and conducted as soon as possible—especially before statewide testing that influences school budgets. The Challenge provided the perfect outlet for spreading the word and attracting funding opportunities.
What in your life or background inspired you come up with the idea?
Anushka: My idea for NOLA Eye Care was inspired by the Unite for Sight organization and the goal to create its first community chapter in Louisiana. After traveling as a Global Health Fellow to a Dhenkanal clinic where I observed life-saving cataract surgeries, I was motivated to start a project through Tulane's Changemaker Institute to address health care and poverty affecting young children in New Orleans. Aleena and I teamed up and visited multiple elementary schools located in the Recovery School District, created after Hurricane Katrina, and realized that many students suffering from visual problems are not able to get proper help due to healthcare costs and access.
Aleena: Having attended public schools in California, I experienced firsthand the fluctuations of school funding based on statewide testing scores. I saw similar problems in New Orleans public schools—and one factor that contributes greatly to lower test scores is poor eyesight. There is a clear lack of coordination between schools, families, doctors, and opticians in New Orleans to provide quality services to kids in need of eye care. Our venture acts as the glue to bring together these resources for the NOLA youth.
What will you do with the grant money? With the grant money we can now approach our optometrist and set discounted prices for the glasses and allocate funds for the emergency consultations. Next, we'll establish a sustainable revenue model to sell NOLA Eye Care branded merchandise during Tulane events and chart out future grant opportunities. With the leftover funds, we'll start saving up for the equipment needed to hold our biannual eye camps.
Why do you feel it is important to help other youth? Whether it’s the exhaustive efforts of local teachers or tireless endeavors by recent graduates in Teach for America, there are so many people in our local community giving their all to improve the Orleans Parish educational system. We feel that each student deserves an equal shot at success, particularly at early ages critical to development, and something as basic as eye care shouldn’t stand as an obstacle. We want to bridge the gap between the available resources and provide eye care to students without charging them for a service so critical that it should be a right—not a privilege.
The SparkOpportunity Challenge was a crowdsourcing competition for young people to share their ideas on how to create local jobs and opportunities for youth. The Challenge was developed by SparkAction and the Youth Leadership Institute and joined Jon Bon Jovi in support of the White House Council for Community Solutions. Learn more >>