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Aravind Hospital – an instrument of ‘the Divine Will’

Blogpost by: Charlotte Strøm, MD, PhD, Journalist,

Reading excerpts from The New Pioneers reminded me of my time at Aravind Eye Hospital in Tamil Nadu in South India, where I spent 2 months in 1995. Back then I had no idea about what CSR was, and to be totally honest I believe what fascinated me the most as a young medical student, with her mind set on ophthalmology, was the enormous patient flow, the skilled clinicians, and the exotic and rare eye diseases that I had only read about in a book.  But as I began to reflect on the two months, I realized what a significant impression this place had made on me.

The mission of Aravind is to eliminate needless blindness, and today Aravind Eye Hospitals treat 2.5 million patients and perform 300.000 surgeries annually, and the vast majority of patients are treated in the hospitals for free. The hospital arranges regularly Eye Camps where hundreds of patients are lined up for examination and screening people for example for cataract. If surgery is needed, patients are transported to the hospital in busses and returned afterwards. These poor patients receive no special care, and no single rooms are provided at the hospital. However, the alternative may be begging your way through life after losing your eye sight due to cataract. I believe many of these patients feel that something good, generous, and even divine happened to them, when laying down and resting after surgery on simple sleeping pads in the dormitory at the free hospital of Aravind.

The founder Dr. Venkataswamy (or Dr.V – as he is called) describes on the hospital’s website why and how he sees Aravind and its employees make a difference in the world:

“Our effort is to make Aravind an instrument of the Divine Will. We strive to forget our limitations and work with the direction of the Divine Will, not in a vain superficial way but with a deep commitment and faith that guidance comes from a higher level of consciousness. Then one is able to work with the great confidence that comes only with that faith and realization that we are all part of a spiritual capacity or spiritual power. It is then that all of nature works with you. You don’t feel that you are a superior being but you are an instrument in the hands of a higher force and it is in that spirit that we meet our day to day struggles and successes.”

In modern communication this would go under terms as mission, vision, and values. When thinking back, it was truly impressive how deeply rooted the Divine Will was in every corner of the hospital in Madurai.

In addition to the free hospitals there is also a section for paying patients at Aravind, a large department for education of ophthalmologists, research, factory for production of intraocular lenses, transplantation bank, fundraising etc.

In 1976 Dr. V set out to do something good, and at the same time he built a large business empire that holds the cost of his charity. He puts it this way: “Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful.”

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