When a fire cracker burst on Kamina Patil’s face on Diwali in 2014, the entire family was distraught. The eyeball on her right eye popped out of its socket due to the impact, in addition to causing minor injuries on her face. “That Diwali was a dark day for me and even today I don’t touch firecrackers. I was just 14 then and was too scared to look at myself on the mirror for a very long time,” she says. She was taken to the local hospital immediately but nothing much could be done. She lost her vision on the affected eye.
Residing in a remote village, Kunde in Palghar district, Kamina was ridiculed at school by her classmates for her appearance; she dropped out of school and slowly withdrew into a shell. “I used to feel so miserable and avoided stepping out of my house. It pained me even more to see my parents suffer on my account but there was nothing we could do. Any advanced treatment was beyond our means.”
Around the same time RC Bombay Kandivli, RID 3141, was implementing rural upliftment projects in Palghar. The club had adopted few villages in the district and was setting up schools, toilets, crematoriums and water facilities, and organising health camps in these villages.
One such medical camp was held at Kunde village in 2015. As the doctors wanted to use the washroom, Kamina’s father who was the gram panchayat head directed them to his house. Deepa Goenka, the then club president, noticed Kamina sitting in a dark corner in the house. “When I tried to chat up with her, she remained silent and hid behind the curtains. I got to know about her accident from her father. He told me how Kamina avoided people and always stayed indoors, and how she was ridiculed.”
Deepa immediately consulted with the doctors in Mumbai and decided to sponsor Kamina’s treatment at the L M Patil Rotary Eye Hospital in Malad. But it did not have a sophisticated equipment that can treat her condition. Immediately Krishna Chaturvedi, a member of RC Bombay Kandivli, agreed to sponsor the machine that cost `45 lakh. It arrived in two weeks and the hospital was all set to treat Kamina.
“But convincing her parents for the treatment was a huge challenge,” she recalls. They were worried about the risk involved and doubtful about the success of the treatment. Subsequently after Deepa’s reassurance they conceded. The club bore the travel cost of Kamina and her parents from Palghar to Mumbai for the entire treatment that lasted for three sittings.
The doctors removed the damaged eye and let the tissues heal. An artificial eye was then placed in the socket. Though the surgery did not bring back Kamina’s vision, it transformed her face. “At first I could not believe myself when I looked into the mirror and my parents were ecstatic,” she says. The surgery was so sophisticated that it was nearly impossible to differentiate between the real and artificial eyes. “As part of their contribution, the hospital did not charge anything for her treatment. It was established 50 years ago by RC Northwest Malad,” says Deepa.
After the surgery, Kamina went back to school and completed her secondary education. She got married in 2021. Deepa, along with her club members, visited her recently at Kunde village. “We were delighted to see her with a cute baby girl, Himani. Now her success story is a favourite topic in our club and it has strengthened our faith in Rotary and its power to transform lives.”
As Avenue chair Deepa was instrumental in coordinating with 75 Rotary clubs of RID 3141 to distribute 50,000 reusable sanitary napkins among rural women and girls, and educate them on puberty and menstrual hygiene management under the district’s Project Red. “We had engaged women from less privileged communities to make the napkins and thus helped them earn their livelihood,” she smiles.