Discovering the realities and transformational journey of people in Katni District

Deepshikha Sharma, February 2023
Katni, Madhya Pradesh

Recently, I had the chance to visit Katni District in Madhya Pradesh. It is one of the 52 districts in the state of Madhya Pradesh and one of the intervention districts of Sightsavers. The image of Katni in my mind had been like any other district I have been to during my eight years of experience working in the development sector. But Katni surprised me. The industry I belong to mostly makes people visit underdeveloped, developing, and rural places. My presumptions were partially correct; it used to be on the list of backward districts in Madhya Pradesh. Presently, the situation has changed. The district must have performed well in development indicators. I can’t find its name on the list of aspirational districts, not even those identified as educationally backward. Katni City, on the other hand, has beautiful cafes, restaurants, malls, big hotels, and industries. It is also a mineral-rich district, mainly for lime and bauxite. So, you will find tons of Metal Ore Mining Corporations and Private Limited Companies.

Now, I would like to shed some light on my experience of visiting the villages, district hospitals, schools, and primary health centres. As I mentioned above, Katni is one of the intervention districts for Sightsavers, and core program implementation started some years ago. Rural Eye Health was the first program initiated in 2015 and continues with the expansion of other core programs. However, due to COVID restrictions, programs were on a halt for a long time, but they picked up pace gradually.

Nevertheless, the entire visit was well planned and focused on acquainting us with different concepts of the High Impact Model, Disease Specific Intervention, Social security saturation approach, Self Help Group (SHG), and how it functions. I know these words sound heavy. Implementing these models and making them a reality requires immense effort. At least, this is what I have strongly realised. Genuine organisations like Sightsavers, Sadguru Netra Chikitsalaya, Samaritans Social Service Society, and, of course, the local government have made it possible.

Vision Centre & Sadguru City Eye Clinic supported by Sightsavers India

On our first visit, we saw two vision centres, one in the city and another in the headquarters of Sleemanabad block. We interacted with the Optometrists and mostly learned about the vision centre operations and the importance of each eye care equipment and its different functions. One of our team members even got her eyes checked. It was a good practical exercise for us to witness the eye screening process which takes place on the ground.

Slit Lamp

It was not my first visit to a vision centre, but I still needed help remembering each device’s use. For instance, Slit Lamp is an essential tool in eye care. It is an expensive and fancy device. Let me put it simply for you; it’s a microscope. It lets the doctor have a closer look at your eye in 3D (inside and out) and diagnose any problem. It fits on a motorized table. Though this motorized table adds to the cost of a slit lamp, it’s worth having. I had no idea about it earlier. The table helps the patient to adjust his chin and face according to their height and comfort. Just one press using your foot, and you can adjust it the way it is comfortable for the patient. I started wondering, a person getting his eyes checked on a slit lamp kept on a non-movable table. The screening can get uncomfortable. I realized its importance specifically for patients like the elderly, children, or persons with disabilities. So likewise, seven to eight more such devices are used at the vision centre, each of which has its purpose. The absence of one device can cause significant errors in the refraction process and drastically reduce the service quality. This time, these eye-testing devices will stick in my memory vividly. Although my mind is still swamped with tons of information, I am trying to channel my thoughts and pen them down in this blog.

On consecutive days, we attended one outreach camp in Rithi Block, this was not a general camp, but it aimed at screening individuals who were blind due to cataracts, mostly around the 50+ age group. It means they have had cataracts in both eyes for a long time, as it takes time to mature. I was appalled to see their condition, but they seemed to be very calmly waiting for their turn to get registered and undergo eye testing. Keeping aside the sadness, it was also a happy moment because now, after the cataract operation, they will again be able to see the world and resume their life like before. As the days went by, we started meeting people from different corners of the districts. These people are mainly those associated with us through our rural eye health, inclusive eye health, and social inclusion programs. While conversing with them, we heard their stories of how participating in these programs helped them in their journey of self-empowerment and growth.

Sandeep Rajak

My interaction with people, precisely a few of them, has been so inspirational. And one of my most extensive learning is that disability cannot be a barrier for anyone. You can overcome adversity if you have a strong will. This is what Sandeep Rajak taught me. Sandeep is a determined and resilient 28-year-old disabled man from the small town of Bhatta Mohalla in Katni District, Madhya Pradesh. He refused to let his injury hold him back from achieving his dreams. Ten years ago, a tragic accident left him paralyzed from the waist down and unable to use his hands. Despite the challenges he faced and the financial struggles of his family, Sandeep never gave up on his goal of finding a suitable career and supporting his loved ones. He and his father searched for a cure from private hospitals in Delhi to Bhopal, undergoing countless treatments and physiotherapies. But even when a physiotherapist broke his leg during therapy, Sandeep persisted in his quest for a better life. Instead of becoming hopeless, he channelled his experiences into a passion for helping other Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) and set his sights on creating an inclusive environment for the entire PwD community in his district.

But Sandeep didn’t stop there. He registered with the Organization of Persons with Disabilities (OPD) and underwent training on the rights, entitlements, and conventions that protect the dignity of PwDs. Now, as a 3rd-year college student and the president of the OPD, he is a shining example of what can be achieved when someone has the will to succeed. With his leadership, the OPD has made significant strides in empowering PWDs in the district. Due to his efforts,  108 members of the community have received motorized tricycles, making it easier for them to get around and be independent. His next goal is to ensure that every person with a disability in the district has a disability certificate, so they can access government schemes and benefits. Through his persistence, dedication, and consistent efforts, Sandeep has become a true inspiration to the community.

In conclusion, my visit to Katni District was a learning experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to witness the transformation brought about by the dedicated efforts of various organizations and the local government.