The past 10 days or so have seen a series of spectacular 180-degree public pivots, some of them from bad to worse, others from unbelievably bad to better. But even these tactical improvements made you ask about the moral values at work behind the scenes.
It was, of course, good for White House spokesman Sean Spicer to make a “no excuses” apology for his ignorant, morally repugnant remarks about the Holocaust, made to justify the US missile attack on Shayrat Air Base in Syria. But what kind of a guy would not know that Hitler had gassed his own citizens, men, women and children in far grater numbers, and with much more due deliberation and malice aforethought than the undoubtedly despicable Bashar al-Assad?
And what kind of a guy would hire someone like Spicer to be his senior spokesman? We know the answer to that one. President Donald Trump, who shrugged off the news of Assad’s sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikroun until he could see on TV and Twitter that the whole world was outraged by it.
Then, there was United Airlines which first beat up a passenger who resisted being arbitrarily taken off the flight for which he had bought a ticket because the airline has incompetently left itself short of personnel in the flight’s destination city. Then United tried to justify its brutality by publicly circulating bad stuff from the beaten passenger’s past before finally apologizing to him. And, again, the apology came only after Facebook and Twitter were awash in videos of the beating and of public disgust about it.
What were Spicer, Trump and United thinking in the first place, and in the second or third place other than, it’s time to cover our behinds?
How wonderful, then, to be able to put all that aside to look at an organization that has been consistently doing great things for almost 40 years, following a plan that is as strategically conceived for the long run, as it is morally centered at every moment.
That organization is the SEVA Foundation, founded in Berkeley, CA in 1978 by 3 experts in public health Larry Brilliant, Govindappa Venkataswamy and Nicole Grasset, the spiritual leader Ram Dass, and the social activist Wavy Gravy. A vital early funder was the Apple genius Steve Jobs.
Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning service to others and the service at the heart of the Seva Foundation’s mission is curing blindness, something Seva has done for more than 3 million people.
You might think that accomplishment was good enough, but it’s really only the beginning of a holistic strategy to train thousands of people to continue the curative work and make the whole process self-sustaining.
It has to be, because right now there are an estimated 39 million blind people in the world, and another 246 million living with visual impairment.
Seva’s research suggests that 80% of the cases of blindness can be cured, roughly half of them by a simple operation to remove cataracts. Those last two facts should tell you – blindness is a product of poverty and underdevelopment, and the list of places where the Seva Foundation operates illustrates that. Seva has clinics in India and Pakistan, Peru and Paraguay, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Myanmar, Egypt and Guatemala, places with a disproportionate share of very poor people.
Seva also has 3 projects in the United States, and their locations are also telling: they’re all in communities of Native Americans.
Dr. Lindsey Marvel is an enrolled member of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and is Chief of Optometry at the Santo Domingo Health Center. Dr. Marvel works with patients who have a disproportionately high rate of diabetes and autoimmune diseases, which can create many complications for eye health. With the help of the Seva Foundation, she is working to build a comprehensive eye care clinic for patients from Santo Domingo Pueblo and surrounding tribes. Dr. Marvel was honored with the 2014 National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s 40 under 40 award, which recognizes outstanding Native American Tribal members for their leadership and community contributions. Seva partners with Dr. Marvel’s vision of providing expanded care to the Santo Domingo Pueblo and surrounding Pueblos.