Rebeca Villalobos Vargas

Ashoka Fellow
Costa Rica,
Fellow Since 2002


This profile was prepared when Rebeca Villalobos Vargas was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
Rebeca's innovative Little Windows of Light program trains schoolchildren as community-wide promoters of proper vision care. In schools around rural Costa Rica, children eagerly line up to shout out the figures they read from an eyesight exam chart posted at the front of their classrooms, while a classmate attentively records and explains each student's results. This groundbreaking program reflects one dimension of Rebeca's large-scale effort to reverse the trend toward preventable blindness in her native Costa Rica.

Rebeca's work is centered on the notion that blindness is not strictly a health problem. Like deafness and dental decay, vision loss is a social problem that requires involvement from a range of community actors for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Undaunted by the shortage of optometry professionals and resources, she is working with doctors, nurses, medical students, teachers, suppliers, and even children to incorporate responsible eyecare into the fabric of everyday life.

By reconceptualizing the field of eyecare, Rebeca is ensuring the affordability of vision care for even the poorest citizens of Costa Rica. Her plan for large-scale diagnosis, low-cost glasses, and high-volume, cost-efficient specialty clinics will help detect and correct vision and health problems on a massive scale. Rebeca plans on adapting her model of participatory vision treatment to other health fields, including hearing and dental care, where citizen-based initiatives and community partnerships could substantially reduce the incidence of preventable illness in Costa Rica and around Latin America.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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