This past September, TIME magazine ran a story on “how the world’s most influential change agents mobilize for action,” featuring the work of the Clinton Global Initiative. President Bill Clinton highlighting me as a great example of how the CGI community makes a difference marked one of the proudest moments of my life. Moreover, the article afforded me the opportunity to share my experience of mobilizing resources through my group venture, SOLO Eyewear, which was launched in 2011 as a CGI U Commitment to Action and has since helped provide eye care to thousands of people in need.
Shortly after the magazine issue was published, I began receiving a large number of emails from supporters nationwide. Out of all the amazing messages that I read, Kadiatou Sidibe’s stood out from the others. I immediately knew that I had to respond to her request for help.
Originally from Mali, Kadiatou decided years ago that it was her life's purpose to provide the orphans of her native country with a healthy and safe environment. After moving to the U.S. and settling in D.C., she launched A Child for All (ACFA) in 2008 to move forward with her calling. Today, her organization has a home that cares for 12 vulnerable children—including Fatoumata, who is at great risk of going blind if she does not receive proper treatment for her eyes.
Fatoumata is only 12 years old, but she is engaged in a health battle no child should have to endure. Her two younger brothers have already contracted night blindness from lack of eye care, and she fears that she will be the next. Kadiatou and her board of directors had been brainstorming ways to connect Fatoumata with vision-saving care.
Lisa Savitt, Kadiatou's board chair, read the story about me in TIME magazine as she was traveling to Europe and advised Kadiatou to reach out to me. Kadiatou proceeded to do just that, and after exchanging several emails, I learned—perhaps through serendipity—that Kadiatou had already planned a trip to my home of San Diego. When we met for dinner two weeks later, we talked about her upbringing in Mali and how it impacted her life. We talked about the children she cares for and their stories. Most of all, we talked about Fatoumata.
Fatoumata, I learned, is one of 10 children, and her father supports the family on less than $20 a month. Her mother has passed away, and her family was shunned from their village. Unable to provide for his children, her father would leave them to find work. Fatoumata now has severe eye conditions, and the local doctor told ACFA that the child is in dire need of surgery.
I asked Kadiatou to send me Fatoumata's medical records so I could connect with our giving partners and explore our options. Just a few days later, Sam Balasundaram, my contact at India's L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, emailed me and CC'd the founder, Dr. Nag Rao. As fate would have it, Sam—like Kadiatou—had come across my feature in TIME magazine. He thanked me for SOLO's work and for mentioning their hospital. I knew this was my chance to solicit advice concerning someone who had been weighing heavily on my mind.
So I told Sam and Dr. Rao about Fatoumata. What steps needed to happen for Fatoumata to be seen by their physicians? I asked by email, assuring them that SOLO would cover her medical expenses. I was shocked to receive Dr. Rao’s response: he said that the institute would perform the necessary surgeries for Fatoumata free of charge.
I couldn't help but cry after reading that email. The next day, Kadiatou and I began making the necessary arrangements to get Fatoumata the eye care she desperately needs.
It is an indescribable feeling to encounter such giving people on this earth. This journey has shown me that one idea, one article, and one email can forever change someone’s life. And whether through CGI U, SOLO, or any other space, people taking action together can change the world.
(Editor's Note: Jenny is currently working with Kadiatou and physicians to provide Fatoumata with the appropriate treatment for her eyes. Stay tuned to CGI's blog and follow us on Facebook for future updates on Fatoumata's journey.
Undergraduate and graduate students around the world can launch their own Commitments to Action through CGI U 2014, hosted by President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton March 21-23 at Arizona State University. Apply online by January 17 at cgiu.org.)
About the Author
Originally from Louisiana, Jenny Amaraneni moved to San Diego in 2009 to pursue her Master of Business Administration at San Diego State University. Before graduating, she launched SOLO Eyewear, a line of hybrid bamboo sunglasses where each pair purchased funds eye care for people in need. To date, SOLO Eyewear has funded eye care for nearly 10,000 people across 19 countries.
Prior to launching SOLO Eyewear, Amaraneni worked with several nonprofit organizations in various capacities. Most notably, she worked with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for two years before moving to San Diego. While pursuing her MBA, she worked very closely with the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center where she served as Venture Challenge Manager, completed two graduate internships and started her business.
Amaraneni is currently involved in a number of organizations and mentors students who are pursuing their own entrepreneurial endeavors. Most recently, she was named one of San Diego’s Top 25 in their 20’s, Top 50 People to Watch for 2013, and a recipient of the Women Who Mean Business award.