ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Soham Govande, a junior at Round Rock High School, foresaw his future when he was younger.

“Growing up with a visual impairment, I realized how important glasses had been to my life,” he said.

Govande using app at Charity Vision Clinic at SAFE Austin (Soham Govande/Together We See)

Govande had severe myopia, a condition that runs in his family, but he was able to get it corrected — a privilege he didn’t take lightly.

A fateful, firsthand experience during his sophomore year of high school opened the teen’s eyes. While volunteering at the Lions Sight Research Foundation’s community eye clinic in San Antonio, something stuck out to him.

“Many of the patients that the clinic was seeing had never seen an eye doctor in their whole lifetime, like 30, 40, 50 years.”

A conversation with the clinic’s program manager motivated him to help others around the world, hoping to reduce this health disparity. The World Health Organization reported in 2020 that “globally, at least one billion people have a near or distance vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed.”

His vision came to life in the form of an app and nonprofit.

The app

On the car ride back from Lions Sight’s eye clinic, Govande started thinking about ways to make a difference for people in need. Tapping into his programming background, he developed an app called OcularCheck. It allows anyone to screen their vision — an experience similar to an optometrist’s eye exam.

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

The free app serves as a visual acuity tool so people will know if they need further help and should go see a doctor. It requires minimal training with in-app instructions.

Its creator has already felt its lifechanging effects.

“I was so thrilled to see so many positive reactions by our users,” Govande said. One user recently reviewed it on the app store that it was able to diagnose their daughter’s myopia and that really touched my heart because just growing up with myopia I know what kind of impact it can have on somebody’s life. That really made me happy.”

Being a virtual tool, many people around the world have been able to use the app. Govande has arranged several vision screenings worldwide — a service that hasn’t stalled during the pandemic. OcularCheck has reached more than 100 countries so far, he said, including India and Tanzania. Local community members and optometrists have helped screen more people in the process.

“It’s amazing that today, our technology enables us to achieve so much and overcome distance barriers,” Govande said. “It became more than a number and more of a driving cause that I was able to see how [the app] impacted people and that really fueled me to continue on with this.”

Since its inception, many eyes have taken notice. His app won first place in the national Congressional App Challenge. It is available in both Apple and Android app stores.

The nonprofit

Govande wanted to expand his vision to a broader scale so he teamed up with co-founders Riya, 16, Pendse and Jacob Avina, 19, to create the international nonprofit, Together We See. The youth-led organization aims to bring awareness and diagnose visual impairment around the world.

The help has also hit locally. The Texas community has given generous support, Govande said.

Together We See screened veterans and donated 200 glasses to the Audie L. Murphy VA hospital (Soham Govande/Together We See)

Over the past year, they’ve donated more than 500 reading glasses to veterans in need, including VA hospitals in Austin and San Antonio.

Pendse, in particular, was touched by the veterans’ response.

“It was wonderful to see a spark in their eyes when they could read a page of their favorite
childhood books,” she said.

The team hopes to expand its outreach to rural and developing countries where access to eye care is the most limited.

If you’re interested in supporting the cause, you can donate money or gently-used eyeglasses on Together We See’s website. All donations are tax-exempt.