Sri Lankan-American Gives Back to Home Country

    09 March, 2015

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Health and Lifestyle report.

    Many people around the world leave their home country for a better education and better job in another country.

    A woman from Sri Lanka named Ashanthi Mathai has a story like that.

    Sri Lankan-American Gives Back to Home Country
    A non-profit company So Others May See travels to where they are most needed. SOMS supplies mobile clinics to provide eye care service to remote Sri Lankan villages. (Courtesy Photo/SOMS)

    Ms. Mathai came to the United States from Sri Lanka in the early 1990s. She had a clear idea of what she wanted -- a good education. Ms. Mathai went to Princeton University in New Jersey and got a degree in chemical engineering. She continued her education at Stanford Business School in California. Then, she began her career in the health care industry.

    Now, Ms. Mathai has another goal -- helping Sri Lanka.

    Four years ago, Ashanthi Mathai was visiting Sri Lanka for her job. During the trip, someone asked her if she would be willing to collect used eye glasses in the United States. The donated glasses were to be used for a Sri Lankan program on preventing blindness.

    "When I got that request, given I have a background in healthcare consulting in the U.S., I decided to take a look at the problem."

    She learned there was a great need in Sri Lanka. She says many people in the country have vision problems that go untreated because of the high cost of eye care services.

    Ms. Mathai notes a 2012 study.

    "In Sri Lanka 50 percent of the population lives on less than (one) dollar 82 cents a day, on average."

    Eye glasses can cost between 50 and 100 U.S. dollars. So, they are out-of-reach to most of the population. But instead of recycling used glasses, Ms. Mathai took a different approach.

    "I realized that it is actually possible to source new custom made eye glasses for just six US dollars."

    A non-profit company gives the gift of eye care

    Ashanthi Mathai founded So Others May See or SOMS. The non-profit company helps people who need eye care in Sri Lanka. To date, SOMS has helped about 24,000 adults with eye exams and new eye glasses.

    So Others May See also partners with Sri Lanka's Ministry of Health to provide free eye care for children.

    Dr. Asela Abeydeera is the Ministry's spokesperson. He says the three-year-old partnership has created many successful programs. One program sends mobile health centers to schools across Sri Lanka to carry out eye examinations. The service has changed the lives of the 900,000 students examined so far. He says some children are able to see the world again.

    Ashanti Mathai says there is still more that needs to be done. She says she wants her non-profit, SOMS, to treat more complex cases and to prevent vision problems. She says she is also planning to expand the service to another part of the population. She says she wants to include people who may not be very poor but who still cannot afford to buy glasses.

    Ms. Mathai understands how poor eyesight can affect a person's life. She has used reading glasses from an early age. That poor eyesight has given her clearer insight on a world where everyone can see.

    I'm Anna Matteo.

    Faiza Elmasry reported this story for VOA News. Anna Matteo wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    vision n. the ability to see : sight or eyesight

    out-of-reach adj. unable to be reached or obtained

    mobile adj. able to move with the use of vehicles (such as trucks and airplanes)

    approach n. a way of dealing with something : a way of doing or thinking about something

    afford v. to be able to pay for (something)