The Maovember 2014 Vision: Giving Sight, Easing Poverty


maovember orbis photo

Eight hundred yuan is a small price for sight. That is how much it costs Orbis to do cataract surgery on one person in rural China. Even more impressive is that  the surgery not only restores vision for a person — imagine a grandfather finally seeing his grandchild for the first time — but also lifts families out of poverty.

“Say there is an older man and he is blind. One, he can’t work. Second, he might need someone to stay home and take care of him. The result is the family ends up below the poverty line,” explains George Smith, Orbis’ managing director for North Asia.

“By correcting his sight, if he is a farmer, he can go back to his fields. His caretaker can go back to work, too, and they get above the poverty live. This can also mean the difference between their children going to school or not. So for adults, its about poverty alleviation, for children, it’s about education.”

Orbis, founded in 1982 and known for its “flying eye” hospital (see below), does more than show up, perform surgeries, and then fly off. It strives to create a sustainable surgery system.

“We build operations in rural areas and build relations with provincial-level hospitals,” says Smith.

He gives Heilongjiang as an example. Orbis would identify a major hospital and donate equipment, give input on the ophthalmology program and send people for training. That’s step one. Orbis then creates a network of smaller operations.

“Over five years, we’ll also work with twelve smaller hospitals outside of the bigger city and build a network of doctors who can do basic surgery. For more complicated cases, they can come to the bigger hospital,” he says.

For the maovember campaign, Orbis will have a senior program manager identify candidates for cataract surgery in rural China. The aim is for this year’s campaign to fund at least 25 operations.

“The surgery takes fifteen to twenty minutes and it changes lives forever,” says Smith. “This situation is so preventable, but there just aren’t enough people doing the surgeries, so we’re training them.”

Note: maovember will raise funds throughout November via events, pin sales and donations. Watch this site for updates on that campaign as well as on the individuals it will help. For more on Orbis, see this site. For queries re maovember, email nihao (at)

maovember orbis flying eye hospital

Maovember focuses on quirky events for good causes. Our 2022 partner is Library Project, which has furnished thousands of reading rooms in rural schools. Learn more about Maovember here. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.