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Indiana teen plans art contest to benefit ophthalmology research

Artwork by Shashwat Sabapathy, who won Second Place in the Grades 3-6 category of Create for a Cause 2021
The winners of Create for a Cause 2021 have been announced. Click here to learn more and see their artwork. 

There’s a question Manya Suresh hears often at her dance performances: Why are you wearing your glasses?

Dressed in the elegant and colorful costumes, her specs can seem a bit out of place because it’s common for dancers to go without their glasses or opt for contacts while on stage.

But not Manya. She prefers her glasses, she says. And she uses the inquiries from her friends as a chance to teach them about the ophthalmic condition that makes her eyes a little different.

Manya lives with strabismus, which causes misalignment of the eyes, and glasses are a common course of treatment.

To further educate children, teens and their families about strabismus and disorders like it, the 14-year-old from Columbus, Indiana has created an art and photography contest. She’s inviting young people from across the country to participate. The money she collects from the $5 entrance fees will be gifted to Indiana University School of Medicine to benefit pediatric clinical research in the Department of Ophthalmology.

Manya Suresh

The fundraiser is titled Create for a Cause and those interested in participating can find more on the contest rules, deadlines and instructions for how to enter by visiting its website.

The contest is open to those in kindergarten through 12th grade. Each age group has been assigned a theme—students in third to sixth grades, for example, have been challenged to create art inspired by the eye—and two winners will be chosen from each division.

Two teachers from Manya’s school district—an elementary school art teacher and high school photojournalism teacher—will serve as the judges. Non-participant donations for the cause are also accepted.

Manya hopes that, in addition to raising awareness and research funding, her contest breaks down stigmas she feels accompany ophthalmic conditions. It can feel taboo to point out an issue like strabismus, but diagnosing these disorders early can make a huge difference in a child’s life.

Manya was diagnosed with strabismus when she was a toddler thanks to a preschool teacher who noticed a slight misalignment in Manya’s eyes and discussed it with her parents. Catching the condition early meant doctors were able to intervene quickly. Now Manya hopes Create for a Cause will lead to more children getting the help they need.

Research in strabismus is an important topic in the IU School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology. The condition can’t be prevented, so it’s essential to discover effective treatment options through clinical research.

Manya is hoping to raise at least $750 in the inaugural year of her fundraiser and plans to continue the initiative in the future. Art, photography, music and dance have always been creative outlets for Manya, especially when her strabismus has left her feeling excluded from her peers. Now, she’s excited and eager to be using these means of expression to do good in the world.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Caitlin VanOverberghe

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she supports the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Department of Ophthalmology. Having earned degrees in journalism and telecommunications ...