When you think of Native American communities across the United States, what image comes to mind? For many, it is often the picture shown here, portrayed in the media, or in old western movies, but, what we often miss is that true Native beauty is vibrant, diverse, and endless!
My name is Jennifer Leo, and while this is the first time I’m writing to you, I’ve been with Seva for the last year as the Program Officer of our American Indian Sight Initiative. As a proud member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, I work hand-in-hand with Native partners to assess their unique needs and co-create solutions that strengthen our communities.
As a Native person, I have encountered many myths about Native communities. But, I want to help flip the lens. Let’s dig a bit deeper, and let me share a side of Native communities not often portrayed – the true beauty, joy, and even struggles we face. Come along to meet some of the partners you support, and who knows, you might even learn something new!
Even though we have never met, you & I are connected.
It may seem hard to believe, with so much that separates us. Your story may have started in a different place than mine, at a different time from mine, with different characters and plots. But, at this moment our paths meet.
This connection among all people is something I learned from my dad. As a little girl and a proud member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, I remember my dad telling me stories. Sometimes they were about himself. Sometimes they were about my aunties, or my grandfather. And, sometimes they were about my ancestors from long ago. I remember he told me about a time my grandmother had no food to feed him for dinner. So, she washed him, and wrapped him in a blanket and sang him to sleep, to take his mind off his empty stomach.
I grew up hearing these stories, learning the details of lives of people I had never met. One day, my dad took me to a mesa, and he said, “Do you know why I tell you all of these stories?” I shook my head no. And he said, “Until today, when you looked in the mirror, you have seen only yourself. After today, – you will see all of us, looking back at you.”
We know eye health affects nearly everyone at some point in our lives. Worldwide, there are currently 1.1 billion people living with vision impairment, and hundreds of millions more have ongoing eye care needs.
Improved eye health is essential to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG for short). That means eye health is critical to achieving goals related to poverty, hunger, education, gender equality, and decent work, in addition to overall health and wellbeing. A Lancet Commission Report released earlier this year noted that the economic impact of vision impairment is massive, with a current estimated productivity loss of $411 billion per year globally.
Native Americans disproportionately suffer from higher rates of preventable and treatable eye conditions. Poverty, geographic isolation, and finding culturally appropriate providers often prevent Indigenous communities from accessing the treatment they need.
Seva’s American Indian Sight Initiative exists to meet the eye care needs of the five million Indigenous people throughout the United States. We structure collaborative, locally-based partnerships with hospitals and clinics in and near Indigenous land to enable Native communities to access health and wellness services year-round.
Join us in honoring the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
Today – and every day – we recognize Indigenous identity, their lived reality, and their rich historical narratives.
Seva is honored to have worked with Indigenous communities worldwide since the very beginning, focusing on various community and wellness initiatives. We express gratitude for our relationships with Indigenous Peoples of every nation – together, we are celebrating Indigenous legacy.
The International Association of Blindness (IAPB) created the Vision Excellence Award to commemorate the end of its 21-year global initiative, VISION 2020: A Right to Sight. In recognition of their life-changing, world-transforming work in the field of humanitarian eye care, IAPB has recognized a total of ten Seva team members and partners with the prize.
“On behalf of the whole Seva family, congratulations to these extraordinary sight leaders and practitioners,” says Kate Moynihan, Executive Director of Seva Foundation. “Seva staff and partners consistently set the standard for patient-centered vision care. Today’s award winners share the commitment and quality of work that brings access to sustainable eye care to millions of individuals and their communities worldwide. I can’t wait to see how – together – we will continue to change the world.”
Thank you for supporting Seva and making these incredible accomplishments possible!