Seva co-founders Wavy Gravy and Larry Brilliant © Bob Minkin
How a Friendship Born From the Counterculture Movement Changed the World
It’s 1978 in snowy Michigan. A clown, a guru, and a doctor walk into a cabin. The clown says, “What I have in mind is eye care for 400,000 people.” The guru says, “See here now.” The doctor says, “Brilliant. We can do that.” And that’s how Seva started.
Perhaps that’s a little too condensed, but the story stands true. That weekend, Dr. Larry Brilliant, who had just eradicated smallpox in India with the World Health Organization, convened an eclectic group of scientists, doctors, and counterculture activists, including spiritual leader Ram Dass and Woodstock icon Wavy Gravy, to debate one simple question: How could they be of service to those in need?
The answer to that ultimately became the Seva Foundation. And the mission was simple: eliminate avoidable blindness, one of the most pressing public health crises.
Today, over one billion people live with vision impairment, 90 percent of which is preventable or treatable. In fact, over half of the world’s blindness is caused by cataracts, which can be treated with a 15-minute surgery costing just $50. Most people with vision loss live in developing countries, where not being able to see often means a life of poverty.
So, Seva got busy—fast. In 1983, they conducted the first comprehensive, nationwide survey studying the root causes of blindness in Nepal. These results, published in their landmark The Epidemiology of Blindness in Nepal report, which proved cataracts was the leading cause of blindness became a key contributor to the WHO’s Nepal Blindness Program, and is still widely referenced by experts today—in 2023, this survey celebrates its 40th anniversary. Fun fact: Steve Jobs was one of Seva’s first supporters—his gift made it possible for Seva to launch its Nepal Blindness Program.
Since then and across decades, Seva has developed a sustainable eye care ecosystem worldwide by creating access to eye care services, building the capacity of new and existing eye hospitals and systems, and collecting and learning from evidence. Seva has also developed and invested in revolutionary eye care technology that accelerates diagnostic and treatment capabilities. Since 1978, these collective efforts have resulted in over 50 million people receiving eye care services in more than 20 countries.
By 2032, Seva will eliminate avoidable blindness in Guatemala and scale its success to the rest of the world. It’s a first-of-its-kind plan for this country. This plan, “Guatemala Brillando,” was supported earlier this year by a PSA from stars such as Steve Earle, Elvis Costello, and Maria Muldaur, among others.
With clear sight, those you support are able to return to work, receive an education, and lead productive lives. According to the World Bank, restoring sight is one of the most cost-effective interventions for reducing poverty.
You can give someone their sight back for just $50. Donate at seva.org/heroes
If you want to know where world-class science, great data, and compassion come together, Seva is your place. We come from an extraordinary group of scientists, musicians, activists, and spiritual leaders, led today by the most committed talent of doctors, hospitals, community outreach, and technology innovation, working together towards a sole focus: eliminating avoidable blindness. Want to know how? Scan the QR code below to join our movement and learn more.
A SEVA STORY
Sakina Anjum is a bright 16-year-old girl from Nepal. As her sight worsened, she struggled with her studies, housework, and even with friends. The sad reality? Sakina told us she thought this was the way everyone sees: a blurred haze. To reach as many children with world-class eye care as possible, Seva runs school-screening programs in local communities, bringing eye care personnel directly to the classrooms of students and teachers.
Doctors from our partner Guar Eye Hospital visited Sakina’s school, where she was provided with a pair of eyeglasses. With clear sight, Sakina sees the importance of having healthy vision and is inspired to pay it forward. She’s taken more science classes at school and dreams of becoming an ophthalmologist to help others in her community. Sight made it possible for this young girl to chase after her dreams.
“Our most valuable resource is our own health. Sight is key to this equation. Seva enables healthy lives and vibrant communities through comprehensive, sustainable eye care programs that benefit those most in need. Through our services, over five million people each year regain and maintain their sight. We are able to be there for others because your support fuels our vision: a world free of avoidable blindness.” —Kate Moynihan, CEO, Seva Foundation
“It feels miraculous to watch people regain their sight, but it’s a miracle that we can all make happen. Seva works in more than 20 countries abroad and in Native American communities in the United States, and nothing is more joyous than seeing the impact of its work on people who had thought they would never see again.” —Nicholas Kristof
Seva is a global nonprofit eye care organization that works with local communities around the world to develop self-sustaining programs that preserve and restore sight.