ISSUE DATE

THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF LIVING YOUR VALUES

WRITTEN BY:

Sheila Quirke

Almost fifty years ago, a young couple left their native country of India to provide greater opportunities for equality, education, and advancement for the children they did not yet have. They recognized that raising girls in a developing nation can be full of challenging obstacles. They created a ripple. 

One of those children, Sima Gupta, OD ’04, was born in Canada, raised and educated in the United States. She eventually volunteered while an undergraduate in Zimbabwe, where she worked with many people, young and old, who experienced blindness related to measles. Inspired by that experience, Dr. Gupta went on to earn advanced degrees in public health and optometry. She created a ripple. 

Aaron Lech, OD ’01, was serving as a Division Officer in the U.S. Navy in San Diego when he had the opportunity to go on a volunteer mission in rural India in 2003. He provided clinic exams to over 450 patients on that first trip. He created a ripple. 

With enough ripples, you can create waves, which is precisely what the work of Drs. Gupta and Lech is doing in India. Both doctors, using their foundational training and education from ICO, are forging efforts to live their values, both professionally and personally, to benefit people next door and around the globe. 

Dr. Lech founded his private practice, ClearVue Eye Care, in Roseville, California in 2004, after leaving the Navy. The office has grown in tandem with his family, his consulting practice, and his iCAREforINDIA mission trips. Partnering with HealthBridge Global, a faith-based non-profit that supports healthcare projects in developing areas of the world, Dr. Lech has been making annual or bi-annual mission trips with iCAREforINDIA to the Andhra Pradesh region in southeast India since 2003. The mission trips now serve over 8,000 local patients each year.  

Dr. Lech has found that when others learn of his efforts, they want to help. “iCAREforINDIA enables people to get inspired. When patients learn about the work we are doing, they want to get involved. Our patients feel connected to the mission and want to support it.” That might look like a financial donation, an afternoon spent packing up medical supplies for shipment to India, or even, in the case of one patient, traveling to India with Dr. Lech to document his work through photography. More ripples. 

Living his values is something Dr. Lech does consciously. “I am learning how to govern my ambitions and not be governed by them. My primary commitment is to my wife and children. I can never resource myself, so I work to maximize my skills and talents and focus my efforts through service.” One way he does that is by including his family on mission trips. His wife and four of his five children (aged 3-16) have traveled to India with him. 

Dr. Lech is adept at dovetailing service-mindedness into everyday life. He strives for an interconnectedness between his clinical work, consulting, family life, faith, and volunteering. “Without all these pieces and the ability to flex between them, I could not do what I do,” he says. This is also apparent in the relationships he has developed with other providers, from corporate sponsors to pharmaceutical companies, primary care physicians, dental colleges, and nurses. 

‘It takes a village,’ is a proverb Dr. Lech knows intimately. He speaks of the “tension and intention” of working closely with the villagers he supports in India. A bedrock of his mission trips is to harness the efforts, wisdom, and experience of the residents he serves in Andhra Pradesh. 

These mission trips are not about sweeping in annually and saving the rural community he serves before sweeping away again. Instead, iCAREforINDIA cultivates relationships with the local population, creating areas of intersection between the two cultures. “You’re there and you spend the time in the sweat and the heat,” he says. “You realize the end of yourself, and you realize the end of resources, and you see the way that love is passed, and hope is given. It is an essence that transforms your entire life.” 

Transforming lives is integral to the work Dr. Gupta does in India, as well. After earning her MPH and OD, Dr. Gupta founded a successful private practice in Atlanta, Georgia while starting a family. She and her husband, also of Indian heritage, took a leap of faith in 2013 and decided to move to India to teach their children about the culture of their parents and grandparents. “As a person raised with such opportunity, I felt a responsibility to India and wanted my children to learn about their Indian culture– the food, family, friends, and language.” 

Another avenue that Dr. Gupta is using to promote positive change in India is with her work at Ansal University in Gurgaon where she is an Associate Professor in the School of Health Sciences and Program Director for their optometry program. “I am teaching and training the next generation of optometrists in India. It is both a privilege and a huge responsibility. I want to see this profession excel in India, and particularly the women of optometry here because it is a path of empowerment. We all know that empowering women, through literacy, health, and safety, empowers a country. I hope I am doing my part in this endeavor.” 

Like Dr. Lech, Dr. Gupta works to ensure that each aspect of her life, whether it be parenting, education, or advocacy, is working in service to the others. That interconnectedness is a cornerstone of living your values. “We take our boys to marches with us. We collected petition signatures together to present to the Prime Minister. If my goal is to change the mentality of India, it starts by raising my boys to be advocates for women. I am raising global citizens.” More ripples. 

If living your values is the goal, is that achievable for most of us? Does living your values require moving to or volunteering in India to help others less fortunate than oneself? Dr. Gupta answers that with an emphatic NO. “The work I do can be done by anyone. Optometry plays an important role in community health. That can be your local community. We have all been given the amazing opportunity that comes with our education. We so easily get wrapped up into our everyday lives, a busy patient schedule, school pick up, soccer drop-off, runny noses, dirty dishes, but we can aid, teach, protect, advocate for those less privileged. The world needs change and improvement. We can each find something we feel passionate enough about to want to see change.” 

As cliché as it may sound, both Drs. Gupta and Lech confirm that the work they do in service to others benefits them, as well. “I am the person who grows when I do something for others,” says Dr. Gupta, “It has made my life more complete by realizing I am able to do something to make a difference.” 

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