The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 2.5 billion people worldwide suffer from some form of visual impairment and require glasses to see. This lack of access to vision care can impact a person's quality of life in myriad ways, from fewer job prospects to poorer academic performance.
But one NGO, Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH), is looking to make a difference in how the world sees. The organization's mission is to "provide the gift of vision and eye health to people worldwide who can neither afford nor obtain [it]." By collecting eyeglasses from donors and redistributing them to communities in need, they're able to give a second life to eyewear and help someone see clearly again. VOSH members participate in pop-up clinics, travelling across the globe to provide eye exams and even treat certain eye diseases. Currently, VOSH counts more than 75 state, school, and regional chapters on an international scale, including one in Waterloo, Ontario, the chapter at the heart of this post.
VOSH Waterloo is a team of optometry students from the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Waterloo. This branch has previously travelled to countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Moldova, and Romania. For their annual 2019 mission, students will travel to Senegal to help rural communities have their vision examined, and maybe walk away with a new pair of glasses fitted to their prescription. Ahead of their departure, VOSH Waterloo members reached out to BonLook for eyewear contributions. In turn, the organization donated 1,500 pairs of previously unworn frames (a total that included 1,000 sunglasses) for the volunteers to distribute to those in need. Of that number, 500 pairs of reading glasses have been mounted with high-quality prescription lenses provided by Essilor. Thanks to this world-renowned optical lens provider, these are now ready to be handed out to patients in addition to the sunglasses provided by BonLook.
We spoke to Sophia Capo, a second-year optometry student at the University of Waterloo and volunteer for VOSH. She shared what the team's plans and hopes are for their trip to Senegal.
Vision care in Senegal is much easier to come by in larger urban centres, like the capital of Dakar but is much less accessible in rural regions. That's why for this trip, the VOSH team—made up of eight students and one optometrist—will be travelling to two separate towns in the country during their three-week stay: the southeastern villages of Ethiolo and the city of Kedougou.
VOSH's plans for the clinic in Senegal
During their time in Senegal, the team hopes to meet with and examine the eyes of and distribute glasses to approximately 1,000 people. The students have three main initiatives they wish to fulfill while there: they want to give patients an accurate prescription, offer an overview of eye health, and perform exams to determine whether or not the patients they will be seeing have cataracts. This last point is especially necessary because of the country's location—its proximity to the equator—the earth is closer to the sun at this point, and thus the need for proper treatment to correct vision clouded by cataracts is necessary. One quick and easy way to curb the damaging effects caused by the sun is by wearing sunglasses, which is why the team will be handing them out the patients they meet.
A mission with a meaning
Volunteering with VOSH offers students a worthwhile experience to help them grow in ways that will benefit them professionally and personally. The students take away invaluable lessons about eye care, and just how fulfilling it can be to help someone see. As Sophia puts it, giving someone the gift of sight is an incredible feeling.
Stay tuned for part two of this blog, in which we speak to the volunteers about their return from Senegal.