Humanitarian travel company gives the gift of sight in India


Relief Riders International (RRI), the award-winning humanitarian travel company, is re-launching its innovative Give the Gift of Sight eye-surgery program after the partial lifting of a ban on mobile cataract surgery camps in rural India.

Close to 24% of the world’s blind population lives in India. The World Health Organization estimates that cataracts account for over half of all avoidable blindness in Africa and Asia. Every year in India, 3.5 million people become blind due to cataracts. There are more than 30,000 blind people in Rajasthan. These people tend to be elderly, and quickly become a burden to their families as they are unable to work and are at high risk for accidents.

RRI has been offering travelers the unique opportunity to experience riding through the breathtaking landscapes of rural Rajasthan India, while bringing much needed medical aid to remote communities since 2004. It was during RRI’s first general medical camp that Executive Director Alexander Souri fully appreciated how much of the rural population who had come for treatment also had difficulty seeing.

Souri knew that cataract blindness can be cured with a simple fifteen-minute operation but that most Indians living rurally are unable to access this type of medical care. In response to these needs in 2006, RRI developed a plan to provide mobile eye-surgery camps in the rural communities within the regions RRI rode through. Restoring the sight of patients suffering from cataracts reinvigorates their life with purpose and meaning, allowing them to reintegrate into their communities.

In 2006 and 2007, RRI provided eye care to 1,900 villagers as outpatients and performed critical cataract surgery for 300 people restoring their sight.

Then in 2008, RRI was forced to shut down the Give a Gift of Sight program by a government ban brought on by post-operative issues in patients participating in free eye surgery camps run by other groups in the Sriganganagar district. During this ban, the impact of removing access to free cataract surgery was widely felt, underlining the importance of this type of medical relief. Subsequently, the Indian government made another policy change in 2010 allowing organizations to now organize free camps in rural areas so long as they only perform screening and identification at the campsites. The actual cataract surgery is now to be performed in hospitals.

To meet all these governmental requirements, and be able to relaunch the much-needed Give the Gift of Sight program, Relief Riders International has partnered with the extraordinarily successful program run by the Shree Bhairav Charitable Trust. Since 1966, their eye clinics and medical teams have offered eye care to close to a million Indians, and they have successfully operated on about a hundred thousand patients.

“Our Give the Gift of Sight program was so effective and inspiring, that all of our riders felt privileged to be part of profoundly changing people’s lives,” Alexander Souri, RRI Executive Director remarked, “I am thrilled to again be able to provide eye care to the villagers and offer free cataract surgery at the Shree Bhairav Eye Hospital to those who are medically eligible for the operation. I’m pleased to be working with such an accomplished and successful program.”

After seven years of performing major medical programs in Rajasthan, RRI is pushing the boundaries of what is considered possible in the provision of critical medical care in very rural areas. On both the Sardar Samand Relief Ride from January 25-February 8, 2012 and the Narlai Relief Ride from February 18-March 2, 2012, RRI will simultaneously run emergency dental camps alongside a free eye-screening camp providing the local population with medical care they would otherwise not be able to access. RRI’s trip participants offer crucial support in the running of all the RRI medical and educational programs.

For more information, contact: Alexander Souri, Tel: 413.329.5876, Email: , web: