I know now that Paloma was born with a purpose – to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired children. She’s already done so.
By Kelsey Anderson
What comes to mind when you hear the word brave? Perhaps a firefighter, a policeman or a soldier at war? Whatever man or woman you think of, get ready to add a new hero to that list. Meet Paloma Rambana – a girl with a huge heart and an even greater purpose. When she was just three days old, Paloma was diagnosed with Peter’s Anomaly, a rare eye condition that causes her to see with 20/200 vision. To clarify, objects that are visible to us from 200 feet away are visible to Paloma from a mere 20 feet away. A diagnosis of this magnitude can greatly impact a child’s educational success since 80 percent of learning occurs through what we see.
It wasn’t long before Paloma’s mother, Elizabeth, and her husband came to the conclusion that Florida had a funding gap for blind or visually impaired children between the ages of 6 and 13. Currently, children at birth through age 5, and teens from 14 to 18 receive Financial support, medical equipment and mobility training from the state of Florida for little to no cost – but visually impaired children ages 6 through 13 and their families are left without any assistance. Soon after discovering this startling fact, Paloma made the brave decision to become an advocate for other children her age who also were visually impaired and needed help.
Earlier this year, Paloma met with Florida legislators during the 2015 legislative session to advocate for the cause. Her efforts received plenty of attention, including a front page spread in the Tallahassee Democrat. Following her meeting with government officials, Paloma led a rally from the Department of Education to the historic State Capitol, where she gave a speech with the help of the executive directors of the Lighthouse of the Big Bend and the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind. In August, Paloma took to social media and created #FundTheGap – an awareness campaign built not only to promote the cause, but also to educate and inform others about the visual impairments that affect our youth. On June 23, Paloma’s hard work began to pay off. Governor Rick Scott agreed to establish a children’s program that ensures $1 million will be provided to children’s blind services funding, with half of that amount recurring each year.
“Paloma knows that my husband and I can pay for her services and devices, so she’s not advocating for herself. She’s advocating for the nearly 1,000 children in Florida who are registered with the Division of Blind Services but are not being served due to this funding gap,” Paloma’s mother explains.
“Even when times are tough,
keep your head up and keep moving!”
Although Paloma has already reached incredible new heights on her journey to fund the gap, her work is not over. Due to the high cost of medical equipment and devices required to support a child with a visual impairment, the approximate total cost required to fully fund the program is $8 million. With the help of her family and community members, Paloma is already organizing another rally to the State Capitol to lobby for even more assistance for children in her age group.
Though she faces her share of daily challenges, Paloma refuses to let her condition hold her back from living the life of a happy 10-year-old girl. She enjoys crafting, horseback riding and attending troop meetings with her Girl Scout Troop. She is a part of the equestrian team at Maclay School and enjoys Skyping with her best friends in her Fifth-grade class.
Paloma urges other children who are affected by blindness or visual impairments to stay positive. “Even when times are tough, keep your head up and keep moving!” she encourages.
When asked about her daughter’s future, Elizabeth believes that she has the potential to do great things. “I hope Paloma will live a long, happy and healthy life. I’d like for her to pursue higher education and a profession in the future” she says. “Although she often says she’d like to become a ‘pop star lawyer,’ I’d be just fine with the ‘lawyer’ part. Paloma would make a great lawyer – she’s a real critical thinker and a great people person.”
Paloma credits Ms. Jennifer, her vision teacher since she was two-months-old, with providing her the confidence she needs to be herself and learn like no one else!
“One of her surgeons told me that if this should have happened to any family, it should be ours. For years, I struggled to understand what the surgeon could have possibly meant,” Elizabeth says. “I know now that Paloma was born with a purpose – to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired children. She’s already done so.”
For more information about Paloma’s #FundTheGap campaign, or to register to join Paloma on December 1 as she marches once again to our historic State Capitol, visit palomasdream.com or facebook.com/palomasdream.