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A man reacts to eye surgery outside Punjab, India, in 2016.

What if you could give a vision-impaired person the gift of sight for $75?

Would you immediately pull out your wallet? Would you write a check? Would you fire up your PayPal account?

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A man reacts to eye surgery outside Punjab, India, in 2016.
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Mark Kennedy

Well, that's the animating idea behind a new service project creating a buzz these days at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale.

The campus Enactus Club uses entrepreneurship to help solve world problems. Club members at Southern have built a website and launched a marketing campaign to support a medical mission in the world's second most populous nation.

The problem: There are 15 million people in India in need of cataract surgery. The cost of helping any one of these folks — including travel, medicine and the assembly- line surgery — is less than 100 bucks.

"Our vision is to eliminate blindness, but we can never do that, of course," says Darryl Magno, a junior accounting major at Southern from Highland, Calif., who is project manager of the Enactus Club's drive. "But we'd like to create permanent [eye surgery] clinics to streamline the procedure."

Southern Adventist students have labeled their fund-raising drive "Now I See," a line from the durable Christian hymn "Amazing Grace." The drive has an informal goal of raising $5,000, and the campus Student Senate has pledged to match up to the first $3,000 raised by Enactus Club.

Let's see. Sharpen a pencil. That $8,000 would pay for more than 100 rural Indians to get the sight-saving cataract surgery. That's 100 people who could regain the ability to behold a field of wild-flowers or to gaze into the eyes of a grandchild.

The Enactus Club, we've learned, is juggling a number of worthy projects, including a computer coding camp for girls, a soccer school for immigrant children and business start-up assistance for an Iraqi man trying to put down roots here.

Meanwhile, university officials have been in close contact with Dr. Jacob Prabhakar, an opthalmologist and the medical director of the Ruby Nelson Memorial (Adventist) Hospital in Jalandhar, India.

Prabhakar has streamlined the cataract surgery to the point it can be successfully performed in three minutes. His team recently did 465 eye surgeries in one day. His work has drawn worldwide attention and operates under the banner "Eyes for India."

Students at Southern have developed a website (nowisee.org) to raise awareness about "Eyes For India," launched a social media campaign to draw attention to the philanthropy and ordered "Now I See" T-shirts, designed by some of the school's talented graphic arts students, which will sell for $20 on the website.

"We are using our resources," said Jeanelle Arguelles, a 20-year-old Southern Adventist University public relations and business administration major from McAllen, Texas. "We are taking advantage of what we have."

Beyond the eye surgery itself, the Southern students are looking for ways to help the patients develop sustainable lifestyles. For example, some have suggested micro-loans to encourage them to become small-scale entrepreneurs.

"I like that we are able to do something for other people," said Arguelles. "You feel like you are saving lives."

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-645-8937.

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