Coolest Charity In the World: Seva Foundation

[Editor’s Note: Woodstock inspired millions to find ways to help and serve their local communities — as well as the larger global scene.  Larry Lieberman is head of, a group that aggregates and shares information about charities inspired by the Woodstock ethos and those who participated.  This is the first in a series from Larry, spotlighting some of these exceptional groups.]


“Eighty percent of the people in the world that are blind do not need to be blind and can get their sight back with a simple cataract surgery that takes 15 minutes.” – Wavy Gravy

Helping out is not some special skill. It’s not the domain of rare individuals. It’s not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of the natural impulse within and follow it where it takes us.

Then add this: Compassion is not about helping those less fortunate than ourselves, it’s about the realization that we are all connected as one human family.

Related: “Even Janis on an off-night was incredible…”

Seva, a Sanskrit word that means “serve to mankind,” has a simple vision: a world free of blindness. Seva provides eye-care programs to people with the fewest resources. Populations who have been economically, politically, or otherwise marginalized. By supporting Seva’s C20/20 campaign, you can help eliminate avoidable blindness in our lifetime.

For 40 years, Seva has been delivering sight-saving services in places where FedEx doesn’t go. To over 40 million people in more than 20 countries, including the United States, where Seva provides care to Native American communities.

Related: “Rockeology: Finding the Original Woodstock Stage”

What’s ahead for Seva is a four-tier campaign, says Smriti Chadha, Seva’s Senior Marketing and Communications Manager:

  1. Establish vision centers to care for the underserved
  2. Improve eye care with new technology (including telemedicine for real-time consultation)
  3. Provide training and create jobs
  4. Focus on kids. “You can help the family when you help a child,” says Smriti.

The impact of Seva’s work is direct and easily measured. They’ve restored sight to over 5 million people who can now see their children, return to work, go about productive lives. That’s more than the entire population of Ireland. Most often, Seva does this by providing cataract surgery (routine in all American cities but still broadly unavailable to the world’s most challenged populations).

Today Seva’s comprehensive approach to eye care extends beyond cataract surgery and eyeglasses. “Advances in the development of quality eye care facilities down to the community level, the establishment of solid training programs for all levels of eye health personnel, and attentiveness to quality, equity, and sustainability of services have enabled Seva to move into new service modalities,” explains Smriti. Local hospitals now provide a wide array of eye services including those needed for children, for people with eye injuries, those with diabetes at risk for blindness, and more.

“As we have built community-based eye centers staffed by excellent technicians, the range of needs served can be extended by technology. The advent of internet connectivity and telemedicine supports real-time patient consultation from a rural village with a doctor based at the hospital. The vision technician can use technology to image the back of the patient’s eye, permitting detection, monitoring, and treatment of diabetic retinopathy which is rapidly increasing in prevalence.”

Smriti Chadha also shared with me the story of Seva’s beginnings. In 1978, after working with the World Health Organization to successfully end smallpox in India, Dr. Larry Brilliant (currently President, Skoll Global Threats Fund) and his wife, Girija Brilliant (a public health specialist) convened a meeting of friends to consider what to do next. That group included Wavy Gravy and his wife, Jahanara.

I didn’t meet Wavy Gravy at Woodstock. But it was love at first sight when he walked into my office at the old Fillmore East on Second Avenue in New York City hollering, “I love what you’ve done with this place!” Indeed, he did love our purple carpeting and how the rest of the Fillmore had been renovated. This was 1987.

Wavy (aka Hugh Romney) was here for the Psychedelic Daze Review, an incredible series of concerts that reunited the bands who had played at the Fillmore East 20 years earlier and put them back on that legendary stage. Wavy was here to MC that evening’s show. He also arrived 6 hours early. I had no idea how much I was going to learn from him that afternoon.

Woodstock producer John Roberts had told me stories about Wavy Gravy, Lisa Law, and the Hog Farm — he spoke so fondly of them. To John, I think they were the paradigm of everything that was right with 60s counterculture.

Wavy Gravy was an inspiration and guiding force to the half a million people at Woodstock and continues to be a visionary to so many who encounter him. His tireless devotion to Seva has motivated so many to get involved.

The musicians supporting Seva include performers Wavy met at Woodstock and plenty of folks not even born when Woodstock happened. That list includes members of the Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Lukas Nelson, Joan Osbourne, Rising Appalachia, Steve Earle, John Popper, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Richie Havens, Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, Allen Ginsberg, Laurie Anderson, Paul Simon, Dr, John, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Lee Hooker, Ben Harper, and others!”

Donations to Seva Foundation are tax-deductible and can be made at For more information please visit their website or contact the author at

-The CS Team

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