By Pam Hughes Board Member and Sponsorship Committee Chair

For Puja, the 18-year-old girl whom I sponsor in Nepal, reading is not so easy.  She has low vision and nystagmus, a condition that causes her eyes to move rapidly back and forth in a horizontal direction.  These visual problems result from albinism, a genetically inherited condition.

Despite these challenges, Puja has been very successful in school.  Last year she passed her SLC exam with distinction and this year she is at the top of her 11th grade class at Pushpalal Memorial College where she is studying to become a teacher.

Puja succeeds because she is smart, motivated and works hard.  She listens to books on tape and has a tablet that responds to voice activation.  However, many books are not on tape and textbooks in particular have small print, making it impossible for her to read.  I was concerned about the difficulties Puja would encounter as she progresses to the university level in a country like Nepal where there are scarce resources and limited accommodations for the visually impaired.

And so I began researching what visual aids, if any, might be useful to Puja.  I first visited the Society for the Blind, here in St. Louis.  After reviewing Puja’s eye report, the doctor informed me that a variety of CCTV models would be helpful.  I then contacted a number of organizations and representatives and finally decided to purchase the Magnalink Zip, a portable device that folds up like a laptop.   The camera on top of the monitor reads the book that is placed below it and then displays the text on the monitor’s screen.  The user can then magnify the text, change the color, or increase the level of brightness, all by simply turning some knobs.

After choosing the device, the next challenge was procuring funding.  It wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined.  NFocus , the company that sells the Magnalink, offered a discount.  Friends opened their checkbooks.  And the Lion’s Club of Webster Groves donated $2,036.  Within one month’s time the $3,200+ cost was completely covered!

Board member Rick Hendin delivered the Magnalink Zip to Puja.  In Rick’s words, “To say that Puja was excited would be an understatement.”  In Puja’s words, “Reading can open whole new worlds. In my life I get such opportunity to see the letters of the books. Now I can get to study what I am interested in. You have changed my life.” You only have to look at the joy on Puja’s face to know that is true. 

Thank you to Mitrata and to all who helped make this gift possible.  I have belonged to other charitable organizations before, but never one in which I had such a personal connection or an opportunity to have such a tangible impact. You have changed my life, too.