“For the newly sighted, vision is pure sensation unencumbered by meaning,” wrote Annie Dillard in the essay, “Seeing.”

For those of us graced with a visual system that provides us with the ability to see things, it’s hard to imagine what living in a world of darkness would be like – and perhaps even more unfathomable, the joy of being able to see after having spent a life not being able to do so.

While blindness is relatively rare in developed countries, it is 500 percent more prevalent in the developing world. The nonprofit 20/20/20 describes blindness as “the biggest global health problem you have never heard of.” And perhaps even more remarkable than the staggering statistic above is that half of the blind people in the world could have their eyesight restored by a simple, 15-minute surgery in which a defective lens is replaced with a $2 artificial one. The surgery requires only a few hours of recovery, doesn’t involve stitches, and costs as little as $300.

Providing these surgeries free of cost for children whose families can’t afford them is at the heart of 20/20/20’s mission. As opposed to medical charities that send doctors on brief surgical missions to tackle large groups at once, 20/20/20 is based on the idea of empowering local doctors and nurses through free training, equipment and financial aid.

“With the right support, local medical teams can provide 10 times as many surgeries as a mission group can – for one-tenth the cost,” notes the group’s website. “We’re helping very poor, but very proud communities become self-sufficient over time.”

Of the charity’s many success stories, the saga of Sonia and Anita was captured by filmmakers in what may be the most beautiful three-and-half-minute video ever made. Selected by editors of National Geographic as worthy of the spotlight in their Short Film Showcase, it is a moving, cinematic poem that will likely have you reaching for the Kleenex, as well as your checkbook. (If so, donations can be made here.)

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