Ten-year-old Paloma Rambana was born with Peter’s Anomaly, a rare birth defect which clouds her corneas. She was diagnosed at three days old and, before the age of five, had multiple surgeries including two iridectomies (surgically made pupils) and eye straightening surgeries. Paloma knows no other vision than what she has which is 20/200 with correction. In other words, she can see the big “E” on the eye chart.
From a very young age, Paloma has been driven to succeed and help others. That drive is what helped reinforce Paloma’s willingness to use assistive devices. Paloma now uses assistive but expensive devices ranging from her CCTV (which costs $3,000) which she named “Cecile” to a handheld magnifier she named “Lucille” (which costs $400) and her desktop magnifier “Zoom Zoom” (which costs $900) as well as a monocle, patches, glasses and a light box.
Now an honor roll student in the fifth grade, Paloma competes in the Leon County Foreign Language Expo every year, is an active Junior Girl Scoutand is on the Junior Varsity Equestrian Team at her school. Paloma is very well traveled. Paloma’s adventures have taken her all across the United States and to many foreign countries.
The Children’s Program was established by the Florida Legislature in 2000 but never received substantial enough funding to truly address the instructional needs of the population it was intended to help. For example, there are about 1,000 children registered with the Florida Division of Blind Services who do not receive equipment and life skills training.
When asked by the Lighthouse of the Big Bend if she were willing to help the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind with its 2015 Legislative Budget Request for $3 million, Paloma jumped at the opportunity to help fund a Blind Children’s Program.
On March 24th she took the day off from school to show 13 legislators her “Lucille”, tell her story and ask for funding. Last April she led a march from the Department of Education to the historic Florida capitol to bring attention to the fact that her age group was not funded.
Paloma’s hard work and astute advocacy resulted in Florida Governor Rick Scott approving $1 million in funding for the Division of Blind Services Children’s Program. Half of the monies will recur every year. Her advocacy has now made it possible for some children, like herself, in this “gap” to begin receiving tangible services to continue on their paths to success. But there’s still more work to do.
Although legally blind, Paloma has not let her low vision get in her way. She recently received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition and a Mayoral Proclamation and was awarded with the Florida Association for Education and Rehabilitation’s Leadership in Government Award (first time to a child) and named Lighthouse of the Big Bend’s Inspirational Community Member (also first time to a child).
In a letter to her, President Obama called Paloma one of “tomorrow’s leaders”. Huffington Post described her as a “little politico”. On the front page of her local paper, she was described as “precocious”. Radio show host Brien Sörne called her a “powerhouse” and Representative Alan B. Williams referred to her as a “trailblazer, advocate and a leader” while KidsAreHeroes.Org featured her as a kid “changing the world.”
Paloma started www.PalomasDream.com to make it easy for Floridians to contact their legislators and ask for additional funding. She started the social media page Facebook.com/Palomas Dream to increase awareness about her plight as well as educate and inspire community members about vision issues. She’ll lead a second march to the Capitol December first.