Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of the natural impulse within and follow it where it heeds us.
Let that sink in.
Then add this: Compassion is not about helping those less fortunate than ourselves, it’s about the realization that we are all connected as one human family.
You can find both these quotes at Seva.org, the homepage of the Seva Foundation, the Coolest Charity in the World This Week.
If you haven’t already heard of Seva, it’s definitely not too late. Seva has a simple vision: A world free of blindness. Seva provides eye-care programs to people with the fewest resources. Populations who have been economically, politically, or otherwise marginalized. By supporting Seva’s C20/20 campaign, you can help eliminate avoidable blindness in our lifetime.
You see, Seva is just getting started. For 40 years, Seva has been delivering sight-saving services in places where FedEx doesn’t go. To over 40 million people in more than 20 countries, including the United States, where Seva provides care to Native American communities.
What’s ahead for Seva is a four priority campaign, says Smriti Chadha, Seva’s Senior Marketing and Communications Manager,
Establish vision centers to care for the underserved
Improve eye care with new technology (including telemedicine fir real-time exper consultation)
Provide training and create jobs
Focus on kids. “You can help the family when you help a child,” says Smriti.
The impact of Seva’s work is direct and easily measured. Seva has restored sight to over 5 million people! That’s 5 million people who can see again. See their children. Return to work. Go about productive lives. That’s more than the entire population of Ireland. Very cool! Most often, Seva does this by providing cataract surgery (routine in all American cities and still broadly unavailable to the world’s most challenged populations).
Today Seva's comprehensive approach to eye care extends beyond cataract surgery and eyeglasses. “Advances in the development of quality eye care facilities down to the community level, the establishment of solid training programs for all levels of eye health personnel, and attentiveness to quality, equity, and sustainability of services have enabled Seva to move into new service modalities,” explains Smriti. Local hospitals now provide a wide array of eye services including those needed for children, for people who suffer eye injuries, for people with diabetes who are at risk for blindness, and more.
“As we have built community-based eye centers staffed by excellent technicians, the range of needs served can be extended by technology. The advent of internet connectivity and telemedicine supports real time patient consultation from a rural village with a doctor based at the hospital. The vision technician can use technology to image the back of the patient's eye, permitting detection, monitoring and treatment of diabetic retinopathy which is rapidly increasing in prevalence.”
Smriti Chadha also shared with me the story of Seva’s beginnings and their “Core Four.” In 1978, after working with the World Health Organization to successfully end smallpox in India, Dr. Larry Brilliant (currently President, Skoll Global threats Fund) and his wife, Girija Brilliant (a public health specialist) convented a meeting of friends to consider what to do next. The group included Wavy Gravy and his wife, Jahanara. Do you know Wavy Gravy? Few people have ever inspired me as much as Wavy Gravy.
I didn’t meet Wavy Gravy at Woodstock. But it was love at first sight when he walked into my office at the old Fillmore East on Second Avenue in New York City hollering, “I love what you’ve done with this place!” Indeed, he did love our purple carpeting and how the rest of the Fillmore had been renovated. This was 1987.
Wavy was here for the Psychedelic Daze Review, an incredible series of concerts conceived by Steve Gold, one of NYC’s great impresarios in the 80’s and 90’s. Steve had the vision to reunite the bands who played at the Fillmore East 20 years earlier and get them back on that legendary stage. Wavy was here to MC that evening’s show. He also arrived 6 hours early. I had no idea how much I was going to learn from Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney) that afternoon.
The Seva Team
Woodstock producer John Roberts told me stories about Wavy Gravy, Lisa Law, and the Hog Farm -- he spoke so fondly of them. To John, I think they were the paradigm of everything that was right with 60s counterculture. At least that’s how I received it. That means something coming from the person who put on Woodstock.
I’ve learned that the counterculture was saying what so many said before and continue to implore. That left unchecked, American is capable of driving itself off the road and into a tree. Many of the greatest, most creative (and coolest) Americans have said this, and sometimes we even listen.
I’m writing this from Sag Harbor, NY; a small old whaling town turned summer retreat at the end of Long Island. Walking past the town bookshop earlier today I was reminded that Nobel Prize-winning American author John Steinbeck lived here. I think of Steinbeck as a California guy, but later in life, he made New York his home.
A decade before Woodstock, Steinbeck wrote a series of letters to his friend and 1952/56 Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, in which Stenbeck decries that consumerism and selfishness were destroying America. That “having too many THINGS” was corrupting America’s values. [Steinbeck’s CAPS.] Americans “spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and nature can throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much.”
Five decades later, It’s clear that Steinbeck and John Roberts was both correct. It’s the people fighting to keep those THINGS exclusively for themselves that are doing the damage. Wavy Gravy was an inspiration and guiding force to the half a million people at Woodstock and continues to be a visionary to so many who encounter him. His tireless devotion to Seva and everyone less fortunate people everywhere has motivated so many to get involved.
The musicians supporting Seva include performers Wavy Gravy met at Woodstock and plenty of folks not born when Woodstock happened. Together they are the coolest list of artists anywhere: the Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Lukas Nelson, Joan Osbourne, Rising Appalachia, Steve Earle, John Popper, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Richie Havens, Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, Allen Ginsberg, Laurie Anderson, Paul Simon, Dr, John, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Lee Hooker, Ben Harper, and others!