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.
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.
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 (click here to go to our news page) 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.
Sinha Lab Hosts UnrulyArt Event at Boston Elementary School
This is the one, real rule of UnrulyArt: There really aren’t any.
And that’s the point.
Project Prakash recently hosted a successful UnrulyArt event at the Mattahunt Elementary School in Boston. Sixty children participated, ranging in age from 3-11 years. Janet Walden, Mattahunt Director of Special Education Support, worked with Project Prakash to design activities adapted for young children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental delays.
Volunteers arrived early at the elementary school to transform a conference room into an art studio without rules. UnrulyArt Coordinator Annie Cardinaux organized the event, in which children worked on shared canvases and individual artwork. It was a day of hands zooming past one another, colors melting together, and paint-covered tennis balls rolling across open canvases, resulting in exceptional and joyous creations.
“It’s beautiful,” one child exclaimed, and as she worked away, while other children shook their hands in excitement and squeezed more color out of paint tubes.
The purpose of UnrulyArt is to expose children with autism and other developmental and physical disabilities to art, providing opportunities to strengthen social skills, collaborate, and take pride in their unique creations. Although children on the autism spectrum often experience sensory hypersensitivities, during UnrulyArt they relish the chance to explore new textures, colors, and sounds, and surprising their teachers and peers.
“Children are incredibly creative and special,” Project Prakash Executive Director Sheila B. Lalwani said. “Events like this are so rewarding because they highlight the uniqueness of children and their artistic abilities.”
Project Prakash has previously hosted UnrulyArt events at several schools in the Boston area, as well as at the Shroff Charity Eye Hospital in New Delhi, India. Earlier this year, Project Prakash presented recent UnrulyArt creations in an exhibit at Princeton University. The event attracted students and members of the broader Princeton community, helping to raise awareness of the experiences of children with disabilities.