The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mixing business with mission

A youth of 23 had just joined the Lions Club. An eye operation camp in Ranaghat was among his first assignments as a volunteer. “There was this surgeon, Dr Pinaki Ranjan Roy. I was told he had already done 1,50,000 operations free of cost. Before he went into the operating theatre, he performed a puja and put on a new dhoti.” His words and his attitude left a deep impress on the chartered accountant.

Today at 43, Arvinder Pal Singh is one of the most active members of Lions Club, having already served as governor of his district, 322B1, and slated to take over as an international director of the organisation in 2004.

In these two decades, he has spearheaded a number of projects. Of these, eye donation camps are the closest to his heart. “It is pathetic that West Bengal ranks so low in terms of awareness in this field.” Singh accepts that it is often difficult to broach the matter when there has been a death in the family, but says persuasion is the only way. “Corneas cannot be produced in factories. If I talk to 10 families, eight will reject, but two will accept. It takes just 10 minutes to extract the eye,” says the man, whose entire family has already pledged the visual organ. Singh’s club has come into an arrangement with eye foundations in Sri Lanka and Ahmedabad (among the highest in the world and in India respectively in terms of awareness) for importing corneas. “Twenty years ago, people felt nervous about blood donation. Now, Bengal is a champion in the field,” he laughs.

Singh and his fellows ushered in the new millennium with a 200-day drive — slum development, eye operations, Hepatitis B vaccination camps... The same year, he was involved in setting up a transfusion centre for thalassaemic kids at the Lions district blood bank at 27/8A, Waterloo Street. “The hospital ambience gets a child depressed. Here we even have a TV beaming cartoons.”

Another achievement he takes pride in is the mobile clinics fitted with X-rays and ECG machines that travel to rural areas. “In my initial years, I used to regularly go to the villages during the camp. So many old people come there who cannot even afford Rs 400-500 required for an eye operation in state clinics. Their families often desert them, taking them to be blind burdens. Such is their joy on getting back their vision,” the Xaverian says. He recalls the standing ovation the volunteers got on digging shallow tubewells in such villages. “It is quite embarrassing,” he quickly adds.

The chartered accountant has managed to mix business with social work. “The corporate sector has come forward in a big way in the uplift of society. My clients have often been very helpful in providing sponsorships,” he smiles.

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