At an age of 14, Yash Gupta realised how much he relied on his glasses which he, and many of us, have taken for granted.
When he broke his glasses during taekwondo practice, he had to wait for a week before he could get a new one. During that time, he was unable to see anything as the power in his eyes was very high.
It was then he stumbled upon the problem shared by many children who can’t afford corrective eyewear.
He says, “I did some research. I learned that there were 13 million children around the world who need glasses but cannot afford them. That’s 13 million children who don’t have the opportunities that I do.”
In 2010, Yash Gupta, who is now 19, founded a non-profit organisation, Sight Learning, that collects and distributes used eyeglasses to students in various countries.
In a span of four years, the organisation (based in United States) has distributed $107,500 worth of used eyeglasses to students in the US, India, Mexico, Haiti, Honduras and other countries. They have now chapters in 14 US states, and in four countries.
Besides giving glasses, Sight Learning holds eye clinics in partnership with other organisations – where students receive examinations and free eyeglasses – in four countries.
So, how did Gupta came across the idea? He says:
“It occurred to me that most people don’t do anything with their old glasses. I searched through my own house and found 10 pairs. I realised these could help 10 kids who have trouble seeing and learning, and that was how I came up with the idea for Sight Learning.”
With help from his father, he set up the organisation, built a website, made some flyers, and developed the mission statement. Then he approached a local optometrist, who agreed to partner with him and put out a drop box where patients could donate their used eyeglasses.
In his first attempt, Gupta collected 150 pairs of glasses and gave them to a partner organisation for distribution.
“I knew then we could make a real difference if I could find 10 pairs of glasses at home, and an eye doctor could give me 150 in a month. I knew we could build and grow and reach thousands of students in need,” he says.
Gupta, who has assisted doctors and volunteers at eye clinics, says that being in the field is the best part of his work.
“That dazed look the first time (children) get glasses, and just seeing that turn into joy and happiness … it’s just really inspiring,” he said.
So, when did Gupta realise he was making a big difference?
“My dad and I, along with some doctors, went to a [clinic trip] in Tijuana in 2013. As we were sitting at the clinic and inviting the kids outside, I went to get the kids outside. They actually all lined up and started singing a song to me in Spanish, a Spanish song of gratitude.”
Regarding it as a really overwhelming experience, Gupta adds, “a lot of times, these families are in poverty. With a good education, you know, they can get a good job and get a good career.”
Gupta has been the 5,000th recipient of the Daily Points of Light Award given by the White House.