Posts Tagged ‘Relief Riders International’

Relief Riders International Pediatric Programs

This humanitarian service trip, with Relief Riders International, on horseback in Rajasthan, India (they also do rides now in Turkey!) was one of the milestones of my world as a volunteer. It was an experience that caused my whole world to pivot and start heading with more direct intention toward being of service. I hope you’ll watch this short video. I hope you’ll be inspired. I hope you’ll picture yourself riding out across the desert and camping in tents and laughing around campfires and bringing critical medical and dental care to people that don’t otherwise have access, and bringing health, medicine, and school supplies to children in remote villages and enclaves. It is such a fulfilling journey. Dive in!

The Eyes Have It–Give the Gift of Sight

Post-Surgical Cataract Patients from the Ride in Which I Participated--Rajasthan, India

I’ve had a stye in my eye for the past few days and it has been driving me up the wall. I haven’t had an eye infection since I was a teenager, and I am more sensitive and freaked out by eyes than the average soul. If I watch someone put in contact lenses I will weep rivers of tears–the idea just freaks me out. Did anybody tell you YOU ARE TOUCHING YOUR EYE!!! STOP THAT!

The glaucoma test at the optometrist? Murder for me. Hell on earth would be LASIK surgery–aargh–I just had full-body involuntary shivers  thinking of it.

It’s kind of weird, then, that one of the most powerful and life-changing voluntourism experiences I ever had was with Relief Riders International in Rajasthan, India. A group of us were on horseback in the Thar Desert, riding from tiny village to desolate rural outpost, camping along the way, and we, with a team of doctors, were setting up free medical and dental camps as well as delivering school supplies to kids and immunizing them, and donating/delivering milking goats to the poorest families in the region. The eye connection is this–one of the main projects was a free cataract eye surgery camp. Desert-dwelling individuals who have never had sunglasses are prone to cataracts at very early ages, and this medical team goes into rural villages and screens hundreds of potential surgical patients in a day. Those who qualify receive sight-restoring surgery the following day as the surgeon works tirelessly through the night, sitting between two hospital gurneys (set up in a school when we were there), working first on the patient on the left, then as that one is wheeled away, the surgeon simply pivots on the stool and immediately begins the next surgery on the right–and on and on. It is an astounding and efficient process, maximizing every potential to save sight. The patients–some of whom have never had professional medical care of any kind, do not pay for the surgery. Donations Give the Gift of Sight to those who would surely lose their vision without the program. Think about donating. Eighty-five bucks and someone can see again.

Think, also, about possibly joining a Relief Ride–I promise it will rock you to the very core. There are rides in India, and now Turkey as well. Even if you aren’t comfortable on horseback, you can join the caravan (by Jeep–occasionally, perhaps, by camel) and participate fully in camp life and the service parts–the most important parts–of the trip.

Now I have to go put a teabag on my eye–I’m getting squeamish all over again.

Can You See Me Now?

Summertime squinting–I swear that all the moisturizer in the world can only fight a losing battle against the crows feet progressing outward from my eyes reflexively protecting themselves from the sun. It’s a small complaint when put side-by-side with the people living in the deserts of India where cataracts arrive at a young age and steal vision. Sunglasses are unknown and eyes are not protected (from constantly blowing dust and sand as well as UV damage). I saw this crisis firsthand when doing my Rajasthan Humanitarian trip (on horseback–with Relief Riders International) where one of the activities of our band of traveling volunteers was helping at a free cataract eye surgery camp.

A similar project is the Sankara Eye Foundation. India is one of the leading countries that is home to a disproportionate number of the world’s blind with an estimate of 12 million people who are visually blind and 45 million who are visually handicapped. In 1998, Mr. K. Muralidharan, Mr. K. Sridharan, and Mr. Khushnood Ahmad founded the Sankara Eye Foundation and have managed to double the funds every year to develop a hospital and treat blindness and eye damage and disease. They have performed more than 70,000 free cataract surgeries each year and can conduct more than 200 surgeries a day. Volunteers and staff work tirelessly in the name of bringing (or returning) vision to India’s poor. The organization plans to open a new hospital in Punjab by the end of 2012 with an aspirational (but achievable) budget of 4 million dollars.

As you open your eyes to being able to make a difference in the world, what if you opened the eyes of others along the way?

Changers:Profile-Alexander Souri, Relief Riders International

souriI’ve decided to add a new element to the blog. I will be posting occasional interviews with people I’ve met who are “Agents of Change,” folks who have done or are doing astounding work making a difference in lives or sometimes providing the structure and opportunity for us to make a difference. I hope you’ll find them as inspiring as I do.

This first is with Alexander Souri, the founder of Relief Riders International and Relief Workers International. Full disclosure: I did a Relief Ride with Alexander in the desert of Rajasthan, India, where 14 of us traveled on horseback to deliver school and medical supplies, helped at free medical camps and cataract eye surgery camps, and delivered milking goats to poor families. In my field of travel writing, the description “life-changing” is bandied about loosely, but I could not be more sincere when I say this trip changed my life. (a stream of consciousness account of that trip can be found here: That experience plays a huge part in what I am doing right now…


Mission Statement: Relief Riders International (RRI) is a humanitarian-based, adventure travel company that organizes horseback journeys through breathtaking areas in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, India.

Over the last four years Relief Riders International has held seven successful Relief Rides. During this period we were able to design and develop far reaching medical and educational programs providing school supplies, goats, medical care and cataract surgeries to rural communities in Rajasthan.

To date, our medical programs have given us the opportunity to treat over 15,000 villagers, including 7,800 children.

Building on the success of these programs we are always researching new ways to provide effective medical care to rural areas. Relief Riders International is pleased to introduce our free Dental Surgery Program. Villagers will be able to receive free dental care and minor surgeries on our Relief Rides scheduled for the winter of 2010.

This past year was spent launching Relief Workers International (RWI) offering a different travel experience while incorporating the same humanitarian programs without the use of horses.


Firstly it all had to do with where I was at in my life. I’d reached a point where I had been lucky enough to travel the world and do all sorts of colorful and interesting jobs—but there was no alignment. I was an observer and could do this skill here and that skill there, but it didn’t add up. I realized there was much more to life than what I was living. Mostly I looked to provide an opportunity to help other people, to give back, to start taking care of the planet, the place I lived. I started the journey of unraveling a wonderful childhood—no negativity or bad experiences—but unraveling the conventions of …childhood…getting back to myself. It was the real reason of me starting these trips. It’s been a five-year journey and it’s still continuing and it’s wondrous.

If we go into finding out why this, why did I try to create this experience, it has also to do with my sense of freedom. I have an interest in being free, both in the mind and the body and also on the planet. Being able to jump out of the mainstream and say I’d really love to go to a beautiful place and see if anybody needs help, and if so, create a system to provide that. It’s part of what I am, the archetype, the ability to jump on a horse or a motorcycle or [pilot] a plane always gives me a sense of replenishment and nourishment.

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