Paloma Rambana is a ten-year-old girl from Tallahassee who suffers from a rare birth defect called Peter's Anomaly. It obscures her corneas, rendering her legally blind. In one sense, she's lucky. Her parents are successful enough that they can afford to provide her with many of the special, expensive tools to augment what little vision she has: magnifiers, a hand-held reader and tutoring from a vision coach. This equipment would be unaffordable for many families. For example, to see well enough to participate in her classroom, Paloma depends on a closed-circuit television magnifier (CCTV). It costs $3,000. She was given one when she was young enough to be eligible for it, but it broke, so she now uses a borrowed one from her local Lighthouse for the Blind, a national organization for the visually impaired.
She has to borrow this equipment because, when she turned six--as her family discovered--the state no longer funded services for Paloma, or other kids her age, until they turned 14. On her website, Paloma sums it up well:
In Florida, and other states, not all kids who have serious vision problems get help. For some reason, babies through 5 years old get help and kids between 14 and 18 do, too. But kids like me between the ages of 6 and 13 who are blind or visually impaired don't get any equipment or mobility training, regardless of our parents' financial need. I wish I knew why!
This inexplicable gap in funding abandons Florida's youngest blind students in elementary school when help is most crucial: when they are learning the fundamentals, the building blocks they'll use as the foundation for a steadily more advanced education in their teens and twenties. Luckily, Paloma's family could afford to step in, but she couldn't be happy thinking only of herself.
Paloma sees the needs of people more intensely and compassionately than most of us with 20/20 vision. Early this year, she began a campaign to pass a funding bill in the Florida legislature to help nearly a thousand of those Florida kids living through the funding gap, ages 6 to 13. A few months later, a bill appeared on Governor Rick Scott's desk, and he signed it. It was only for $1 million, a third of what she'd hoped for--so only around 300 of the 900 students in need will get help--but it was an enormously impressive victory.
In the process, Paloma became quite the little politico. How many kids in elementary school have a website with a page of selfies in which they are posed with their governor, senator, representatives and other Washington insiders? On her website you will find her grinning with Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Bill Nelson, Rep. Larry Ahern, and others in Congress. You'll see her with other supporters her age all wearing clever Fund the Gap t shirts, modeled after Mind the Gap warning signs in the subways--er, undergrounds--of Canada and Britain. The charm of her simple appeal for help was irresistible.
What's so inspiring about Paloma's advocacy--you know she'll be a legislator herself some day--is that she has looked beyond her own predicament to see the plight of others just like her. Empathy, compassion, and an instinct for the opportunity to help have combined in her character, giving her a level of energy and drive that most of us only dream of having. Rather than simply being thankful that her family was able to help her overcome her disability, she knew immediately that she wanted to use that good fortune to help others. It's the sort of mentality we need, more and more, from the luckiest in our society--the ability to see good fortune as an opportunity to help those still waiting for a lucky break.
Paloma's campaign has only gotten started. There are many more kids her age who need help, and you can find various ways to support her at her website: www.palomasdream.com. When I reflect on what Paloma has achieved, I heard the voice of a wise teacher, not a ten-year-old girl. It's pretty amazing to imagine a world ruled by more caring, more compassion. I'm grateful and humbled simply to be able to pass along her story.