Sophomore Divija Bhimaraju recently received a certificate of excellence in this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for her efforts to help blind people. She also received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for the amount of time she has dedicated to her volunteer work.
Bhimaraju felt prompted to help the blind when she attended a conference by the Sankara Eye Foundation in 2011. “These glimpses that changed my life came in the form of a few short, minute-long videos of pre-surgery and post-surgery blind children,” she said. “I think it was the gratitude and wonder on those small faces that inspired me to initiate change on that day, and it’s what motivates me now.”
She later founded Donum Visi to help grant disadvantaged people the gift of sight by spreading awareness and sponsoring surgeries. She also devoted time to local community service.
“With careful planning, advertising and management, I hosted free seminars for young children in which I created PowerPoints and pamphlets about the eye and different ailments,” she said. She also designed hands-on projects for the students, including color-coding, telescope building and optical illusions. In addition, Bhimaraju mentored a robotics team and taught basic science and English to children, for which she received donations.
“This fusion of my passions, teaching and service, served a double purpose: not only did I interactively teach and foster interest in academic subjects for young children, but I earned nearly twice the money I intended through voluntary donations by inspired students,” Bhimaraju said.
She has been able to sponsor 179 cataract surgeries. “I have changed 179 real, tangible lives, and I’ve seen videos of children who’ve undergone treatment through my efforts.”
Recently, Bhimaraju has been gathering eyeglasses and distributing them to those in need. Already she has donated more than 50 pairs to grant children in India the chance to see better. She also is seeking volunteer opportunities at schools for the blind and has contacted vision centers geared toward the homeless to distribute more glasses locally.
In December, Bhimaraju traveled to southern India and lived with the president of Sodhana, a leading community service organization. “I played with and taught children in Sodhana’s straw-roofed schools, and interacted with poor women who were surpassing traditional village hierarchies by taking part in self-help groups,” she recalled.
Overall, Bhimaraju sees her charitable efforts as a journey of self-discovery. “The one central question that has driven philosophers mad, that has sparked revolutions, that tears at the insides of every teenagers, is ‘Who am I?’ And I think that’s the biggest gift that I have received from volunteer work. Donum Visi has given me purpose: I have a vision for the world, a plan to make it happen, and a place for myself in it.”