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Photo of Gulshan and Pyarali Nanji (front) and family with Dr. Sherif El-Defrawy
Gulshan and Pyarali Nanji (front) and family with Dr. Sherif El-Defrawy. Photo by Matthew Volpe

With Restored Sight Comes Opportunity and Hope

A gift from the Nanji family to U of T will help people “see the light of all the world”

A donation from Pyarali G. Nanji and his family will establish a chair in the department of ophthalmology and vision sciences, marking an important boost for eye-care initiatives at U of T.

The chair will be held for a five-year term by Dr. Sherif El-Defrawy, an eye surgeon, researcher and award-­winning teacher. A large portion of the funds will support health missions by members of the department, including El-Defrawy, to Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti and other low- and middle-­income countries.

“We spend our days performing cataract surgery and corneal transplantation surgery – restoring vision and sometimes allowing people to see for the first time in their lives,” El-Defrawy explains. Local surgeons who have not had the opportunity to be trained in eye surgery attend the sessions, first observing and then performing operations themselves under supervision. In the evenings, he says, the Canadians give lectures or host discussions on a surgical topic.

When the Canadians return home, they have not only transformed the lives of hundreds of patients, but they’ve equipped the local surgeons to continue the work. “This gift will make an enormous difference,” El-Defrawy says, noting that vision is critical to a person’s autonomy.

“When vision is lost, individuals become unable to work and provide for themselves. And because in most of these countries there is no social safety net, vision loss often leads to being destitute. Cataract surgery can mean people are able to prepare their own food again or go back to doing constructive work. It relieves a burden on the whole family.”

The Nanji family has been supporting hospitals and health care in Canada for more than four decades – ever since Pyarali and his wife, Gulshan, emigrated from Uganda with their four children in 1972.

Motivated by a desire to give back to their adopted country, they have donated millions of dollars to causes that are close to their hearts. “Canada is a very humanitarian country,” says Pyarali. “At the same time, we have to make more effort to help underdeveloped countries.”

With this new donation, the Nanjis are not only supporting a needed medical service, but providing opportunity and hope. “We really wish, from the heart, to give people the gift of sight so they can see the light of all the world,” says Pyarali.

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