VOSH is a non-profit organization with the goal of providing optometric care to countries in the global south lacking access to proper eye health. Members of VOSH’s Waterloo chapter recently travelled to Senegal to distribute glasses and help out locals. After returning from Senegal, we spoke to Sophia Capo, VOSH Waterloo’s chapter lead, to discuss how their stay went.
How would you describe the overall experience in Senegal?
I would say that our vision care clinic was a success. In all, we were able to see about 600 over the course of the two weeks we were there. We got the word out with help from peace corps stationed there. Most people heard about our clinic via a local radio station, which is how news is disseminated.
What was the response to the vision care you and the team were able to provide?
The people we met with were so warm and appreciative—even in instances in which all we could provide them with was a pair of sunglasses or eyedrops. One woman, a seamstress, told us she had to stop working because she couldn’t see from up close anymore. She assumed this was her new normal. But after we gave her a pair of reading glasses and she was able to see again her reaction is something I’ll always remember. She had the biggest smile on her face.
What were some of the most common issues people had with their eyesight?
Most of the people we saw were aged 35 and up and so their priority was treating near vision. We were able to give them reading glasses to improve their vision.
What were some of your (and the team’s) biggest takeaways?
The most significant takeaway was that people didn’t know that many of their vision concerns were correctable with glasses. Or that if they got an eye infection, it could be treated. It was a real eye-opening experience for us.
Before we departed for Senegal, we worked with BonLook to get a range in styles of frames. Style-wise, some were more traditional while others were colourful with shades of bright red and orange. Our patients wanted to wear the bright, fun, and funkier colours. That was great to see. Another time, we dropped by a local pharmacy to pick up some medication ahead of the clinic. When the pharmacists found out why we were in Senegal and learned that we were able to help people see clearly, they wanted to know more. We wound up returning to the pharmacy and handing out reading glasses to the employees so they could see things like pill bottles with clarity.
We’re thankful for the help we received from BonLook and Essilor. We gave out just about every pair of reading glasses we brought with us, and distributed tons of sunglasses to people who need them as well.