The Humanitarian Mission
India is home to the world’s largest population of blind children, with estimates ranging from approximately 200,000 to 700,000. However, much of this blindness can be avoided or treated! Project Prakash conducts screening camps in villages across north-central India to identify children with treatable eye problems, and also provides sight treatment free of cost. Read More
India shoulders the greatest burden of the planet’s 1.3 million blind children in developing countries. Most children stay untreated due to scant medical facilities and the belief that beyond the first few years, interventions are futile. This lack of treatment has devastating consequences. Over 90% of the affected children are unable to obtain an education and fewer than 50% survive to adulthood. More than 80% are unemployed as adults. For blind girls, the outlook is even more dire. 75% of girls with disabilities suffer physical or sexual abuse.
Project Prakash has been working since 2005 at the very grassroots of India, in hundreds of villages, connecting them to the most sophisticated treatment available and building awareness regarding treatable and preventable blindness. Project Prakash provides sight treatment free of cost to children who are too poor to afford it or are not aware that their condition can be corrected. Simple outpatient procedures are provided by satellite clinics. Surgical treatments are conducted at Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital in Delhi, ensuring the highest standards of care and science.
The scientific objective of Project Prakash is to understand the prospects and process of visual recovery after a lifetime of blindness. From a basic science perspective, these studies provide unique windows into the brain’s fundamental mechanisms of learning and plasticity. The scientific team follows-up with patients to assess how their vision develops after treatment. Read More
Embedded in the humanitarian aspect of Project Prakash is an unprecedented opportunity to study one of the deepest scientific questions: How does the brain learn to extract meaning from sensory information? The humanitarian initiatives of Project Prakash are beginning to create a remarkable population of children across a wide age-range who are just setting out on the enterprise of learning how to see. The Prakash researchers have begun following the development of visual skills in these unique children to gain insights into fundamental questions regarding object learning and brain plasticity. This is a unique and unprecedented window into some of the most fundamental mysteries of how the brain learns to organize its sensorium.
Research results from Project Prakash have been highlighted in several scientific and popular publications including Nature and TIME magazine as well as major newspapers across the world. This broad dissemination of Prakash findings is helping raise awareness about the problem of childhood blindness amongst the public at large, and also conveying to them the excitement of basic research that directly benefits people’s lives.
* Statistics as of 2014
A transformation occurs in the life of the Prakash children, and we are helping them explore avenues of creative expression through "Unruly Art."
Through our experience with Project Prakash, we have come to realize that children with disabilities are often doubly disadvantaged. Not only do they have to cope with the challenges that the disability imposes, but they also have to deal with subtle societal prejudices. Art is an important case in point. The idea that children with disabilities are uninterested in, or incapable of, creating art has led to their near complete exclusion from participating in art. Art has profound benefits for its producers: better social integration, improved cognitive function, reduced anxiety and enhanced self-esteem. The desire to actively include children across all levels of the skill spectrum in art is the motivation behind UnrulyArt.
We have devised and compiled several techniques that enable children to create art while sidestepping cognitive and motoric challenges. Our eventual goal is to mount a series of exhibitions of these works to begin to transform how society views children with disabilities. Instead of prejudice and pity, we want the dominant emotion to be one of admiration.
We have already made a start towards this goal. During January 2012, we invited 25 formerly blind children who had gained sight through Project Prakash to participate in a day of art. Even though none of these children had ever before engaged in art, they relished the opportunity to do so. Their creations were stunningly beautiful, changing how they viewed themselves and how their friends and relatives viewed them. We have also undertaken the same activity with children in the US who have special needs. The UnrulyArt sessions were a lot of fun for all participants – the children, teachers and students from MIT. Given how much joy and self-confidence this activity imparts, we are keen to bring it to many more children in India and abroad. The goal of making sure that children have all possible opportunities to develop and express their talents is one that is not specific to any one society, but rather is shared globally by all of humanity. This is the lofty goal that drives UnrulyArt.
To maximize the impact of Project Prakash on children’s lives and science, an important goal in the coming years is to create the Prakash Center for Children, a campus that will integrate the core missions of the project in one location. The center will provide:
- Treatment to curably blind children,
- Rehabilitation and education to treated children, and
- Facilities for scientific research.
Adopting an integrated approach will allow us to derive the greatest benefits from the natural synergies that exist between treatment, education and research. This enables:
- A clear path from treatment to mainstreaming
- Real-world relevance of scientific research
- Translation of research to clinical and educational practice
- Extended treatments, follow-ups and outcome analyses
Our ambitious plans for the Prakash Center call for a significant infusion of resources. We are tackling the challenge head-on by developing creative strategies for fund-raising. We welcome all help and would love to have you contact us.
Pawan Sinha, Ph.D.
Founder of Project Prakash
Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at M.I.T. Prof. Sinha is a recipient of the PECASE – the highest US Government award for young scientists, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in Neuroscience, the John Merck Scholars Award for research on developmental disorders, the Jeptha and Emily Wade Award for creative research, and the Troland Award from the National Academies. He has published extensively in several of the world’s top-ranked scientific journals including Nature, Science, Nature Neuroscience and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His work has been profiled in several media channels including the New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC News, National Public Radio and TIME magazine.
Sheila B. Lalwani serves as the Executive Director for Project Prakash. In her role, she coordinates operations between the U.S. and India. She has extensive experience in India, working for the U.S. State Department, Human Rights Law Network and India Literacy Project. Fluent in Hindi, she graduated from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, she is a former Fulbright Scholar.
Core Science Team
Tapan Gandhi, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral researcher at M.I.T. in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. He obtained his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. Dr. Gandhi is an INSPIRE faculty member in the Engineering and Technology category of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt. of India. He also an Assistant Professor at the Defense Institute of Allied Sciences, Minister of Defense, India. His research expertise spans computational neuroscience, brain imaging (EEG, MEG, fMRI), biomedical instrumentation, biomedical signal and image processing, machine learning, and rehabilitation engineering.
Amy Kalia, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral researcher at M.I.T. in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in Cognitive and Biological Psychology at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Kalia has since then continued to study multisensory processing with low vision. She has received the Fight for Sight and National Institute of Health’s NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowships.
Dr. Suma Ganesh
Head of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital, Delhi. She came first in MS (Ophthalmology) at Bombay University and received numerous awards during her training. Dr. Suma studied Pediatric Ophthalmology at the Manhattan Eye and ENT Hospital, New York, USA. She has received the prestigious Dr. S. D. Athawale award for the best paper in squint at the All India Ophthalmological Conference.
Dr. Umang Mathur
Associate Director and head of the Department of Ophthalmology at Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital, Delhi. Dr. Umang is a Cornea and Phaco cataract surgeon. He has received several decorations in recognition of his surgical talents, and completed a fellowship in Cornea and Anterior Segment surgery at the prestigious L.V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad in 1998. His training abroad includes time at the Royal Hull Infirmary, UK, and at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, USA.
Shantanu Das Gupta
DGM of Marketing and Projects at Shroff Charity Eye Hospital, Delhi. Mr. Das Gupta assists in coordinating and managing outreach efforts and personnel, including organization of eye camps in villages and schools, and coordinating patient visits to the hospital. He also has a role in strategic planning to increase the footprint, community outreach, marketing and project development with corporate organizations and international NGOs.
Ms. Shakeela Bi
Outreach coordinator and counselor at Shroff Charity Eye Hospital, Delhi. Ms. Bi serves as the personal contact person for the Project Prakash patients and their families. She coordinates their travel to the hospital, and keeps in touch with the families once they return to their homes.
Mr. Harvendra Dhillon
Project coordinator at Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital, Delhi. Mr. Dhillon coordinates outreach camps and the logistics of patient trips to the hospital. He is the on-the-ground person who travels to villages to meet with patients and their families, and attends eye camps along with optometrists from the hospital.
Dr. Peter Bex
Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Bex’s research explores the early detection, diagnosis and monitoring of visual impairment using behavioral and imaging techniques. He received his Ph.D. in Vision Science from Cardiff University in the U.K., which was followed by a postdoctoral research position at McGill University in Montreal and the University of Rochester in New York. Dr. Bex has also held faculty positions at the Institute of Ophthalmology in London and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Dr. Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli
Research Scientist in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at M.I.T. Dr. Whitfield-Gabrieli is interested in how analyses of brain imaging data can shed light on the neural mechanisms subserving normal cognition and how disturbances of those mechanisms impair cognition in neurological and psychiatric diseases.
Dr. Margaret Kjelgaard
Associate Professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Kjelgaard has long standing interests in research, clinical work and teaching in the area of childhood developmental disabilities. Her research has mainly focused on autism, basic psycholinguistics, and childhood language disorders, and has more recently evolved to include sensory processes and how they might relate to language processing difficulties. She received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Northeastern University and has a Clinical Certification in Communication Disorders. Dr. Kjelgaard has collaborated with the Sinha lab at M.I.T. for the past few years.
Dr. Harsh Mahajan
Chief Radiologist, Mahajan Imaging, Delhi. Dr. Harsh Mahajan graduated from Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi in 1982, after which he went on to do his Post-Graduation in Radiodiagnosis from PGIMER, Chandigarh. He was then awarded a Rotary Foundation Fellowship at the MD Anderson Cancer Hospital & Research Institute in Houston, Texas where he developed a keen interest in Magnetic Resonance Imaging. In 1992, Dr. Mahajan set-up one of India’s first privately run MRIs. Subsequently in the year 1998 he was appointed as the Honorary Radiologist to the President of India and he continues to hold that post till date. He was awarded one of the highest civilian national honours of “Padma Shri” in the 2002 for his contribution to the field of radiology and imaging. He is currently the Chief Radiologist at Mahajan Imaging Pvt. Ltd., the company he founded, which has seven radiology and nuclear medicine centres in and around New Delhi.
Dr. Lotfi Merabet
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Merabet is also a member of the research faculty in the Vision Rehabilitation Service at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. His research uses behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to study adaptations to vision loss and blindness. Dr. Merabet received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Montreal, his O.D. a the New England College of Optometry, and also holds masters degrees in Clinical Investigation and Public Health. He continues to lecture and serve as an advisor within the local blind community and also serves on the Board of Directors at the Carroll Center for the Blind and National Braille Press. Dr. Merabet's main research interests include the development of assistive technology and much of this work is done in local collaboration with the Carroll Center and Perkins School for the Blind as well as internationally with the University of Chile and Milan.
Dr. Flip Phillips
Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Flip received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Ohio State University and has expertise in visual and haptic perception, which he studies using behavioral and computational modeling techniques. He also uses 3D printing technology in his lab to create novel haptic objects for experiment purposes. He also was the Director of the Neuroscience Program at Skidmore for four years. Before joining Skidmore College, Flip worked as an Animation Scientist for Pixar Animation Studios.
Maria Stenzel is a freelance photojournalist who documents the experiences of the Prakash children during their time at the hospital in Delhi, as well as in their villages. Maria has covered the environment, science, and indigenous cultures for National Geographic Magazine for twenty years. Her photographs have received awards from World Press Photo, The National Magazine Award, The National Press Photographers Association, and Communication Arts. She was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, a Fellow at the Film Studies Center at Harvard University, and has taught in the Journalism program at Emerson College.
U.S. Operations Team
Annie Cardinaux supports the day-to-day operations of Project Prakash in the US, including coordination of administrative systems, communications, fundraising, and special events. Annie joins Project Prakash with a background in nonprofit administration and special needs education, and completed her B.S. at Tufts University. In her primary role as Technical Associate in Professor Sinha’s laboratory at MIT, she coordinates autism research projects.
Board of Directors
Ms. Laura Flug is a director of the American Technion Society, an organization in New York that provides financial and other support for the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. She also sits on the board of the Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Commack, New York.
Richard M. Held, Ph.D.
Emeritus professor at MIT. Research expertise in visual and motor development. Member of the National Academy of Sciences. Past chairman of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Director of the New England College of Optometry.
Pamela R. Lipson, Ph.D.
Founder of Imagen Inc. Research expertise in vision and artificial intelligence. Honors include the George Sprowls Award for Exceptional Research at MIT, the TR100, the MIT 50K Entrepreneurship Prize and the World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer Award.
Amy Chu, M.B.A.
Expertise in non-profit management in the life-sciences arena. Masters degree from MIT in architecture and MBA from Harvard.
- James S. McDonnell Foundation
- Nick Simons Foundation
- National Eye Institute (NIH)
- John Merck Foundation
- Rotary International
- Envision at Rutgers University
(recipients of the Be Vital Challenge Award from Johnson and Johnson Services, Inc.)
Results of late surgical intervention in children with early-onset bilateral cataracts.British Journal of Ophthalmology, 98(10), 1424-28.
Ganesh, S., Arora, P., Sethi, S., Gandhi, T., Kalia, A., Chatterjee, G. and Sinha, P. (2014)
Development of pattern vision following early and extended blindness.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 11(5), 2035-39.
Kalia, A., Lesmes, L., Dorr, M., Gandhi, T., Chatterjee, G., Ganesh, S., Bex, P., and Sinha, P. (2014)
Improvement in spatial imagery following sight onset. Psychological Science, 25(3), 693-701.Psychological Science, 25(3), 693-701.
Gandhi, T., Ganesh, S., and Sinha, P. (2014)
Restoring vision through ‘Project Prakash’: The opportunities for merging science and service.PLOS Biology, 11(12), e1001741
Sinha, P., Chatterjee, G., Gandhi, T., and Kalia, A. (2013)
Once blind and now they see.Scientific American, 309, 48-55.
Sinha, P. (2013)
Project Prakash is always looking for bright and energetic people who want to have lasting impact on the life of a child. If you are passionate, persistent and ready to change the world, we want to hear from you.
We are particularly interested in volunteers with experience in grant writing, event planning and communications.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay in Touch
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955 Massachusetts Avenue
Suite 351, Cambridge 02139
Donate to Project Prakash
Your support is critical for furthering Project Prakash's humanitarian and scientific missions. It will help us serve many more children and develop the Prakash Center. Project Prakash is a 501(c)3 entity. All donations are tax exempt.
|$10||pair of eye glasses|
|$50||clothing and educational materials for one child|
|$200||one Unruly Art session|
|$400||cost of one eye surgery including transportation and lodging|
|$1000||cost of conducting an eye camp to screen 300 children|
|$3000||salary of an outreach health worker for one year|
Or send checks to:
955 Massachusetts Avenue
Suite 351, Cambridge 02139