Essilor Vision Foundation India has supported an eye care program targeting around 3,000 beneficiaries in Sri Lanka. We reached out to Regina Lau, a medical coordinator, who reported straight from the field about the moving experiences she went through during this mission.
Earlier this month 4 optometrists, 4 optometry students and three volunteers from Australia headed to an eye care mission in Sri Lanka, the island nation in the Indian Ocean, also known as the 2nd largest tea exporter in the world. Apart from the tremendous support they received from numerous local volunteers, several organizations helped to make this initiative happen: Tea Leaf Trust supported by Lebara Foundation, Rotary Club of Colombo, Rotari Club of Mill Point and Mount Lawley in Australia, Global Hand Charity and lastly Essilor Vision Foundation India which, reaching out for the first time in Sri Lanka, sponsored 900 free pairs of glasses.
Together they managed to organize several screening events with an average of 550 Sri Lankans a day, focusing on children in orphanages and on tea-pickers in the tea plantation territories, many of whom are hit by poverty and social problems. Around 2,600 people who needed glasses received them on the spot.
It was hard for us to understand how some people walked around with such terrible eyesight.
Regina Lau, a medical coordinator at Global Hand Charity, who participated in this initiative described her incredible experiences: “It has been so humbling to see so many people travel from far away villages to get their sight checked. It was hard for us to understand how some people walked around with such terrible eyesight. For example, this young mother of two who continuously bumped into walls and we later found out that her eyesight was – 12! One of my colleagues had a patient with eyesight -30 and she is a young 18 year old. He will take the order to Melbourne and get it specially made for her. She is almost blind from the ‘insufficient’ glasses she is currently wearing. Hopefully it will make some impact on her quality of life. There were too many examples of cases like that where the aid of something would enhance their life tremendously.”
Some old folk have to wait for years to get their glasses , which cost a fraction of what we are used to – waiting for their grandchildren to go to work so that they could buy them a pair.
For many of the beneficiaries who are living below the poverty line, a pair of glasses – although available for a very low price – still means an investment that they can’t afford without receiving financial support: “Some old folk have to wait for years to get their glasses which cost a fraction of what we are used to – waiting for their grandchildren to go to work so that they could buy them a pair. I am simply lost for words, the price of a half cup of coffee, can make such a difference to their lives. It really highlights the disparity between the lives of all of us.”
We also spoke to a manager from the charity organization Tea Leaf Trust – which primarily focuses on education but decided to participate in this particular collaboration to address a specific need in the tea estate communities surrounding their schools. He too underlined not only the lack of availability but also affordability of eye care services: “There aren’t any eye care facilities for people in the region. What there is, they can’t afford. This is a major problem with hundreds of people suffering from eye problems that could easily be solved. Ask anyone you know and they can tell you the difference a simple pair of glasses makes to their day-to-day lives!”
The local help has been tremendous and we have a huge team of local volunteers who is feeling just as pumped as all of us.
Apart from many rewarding experiences with thankful people who walked away with their new pair of glasses, the Australian team was surprised by the hospitality and community spirit among locals that they encountered: “The local help has been tremendous and we have a huge team of local volunteers who is feeling just as pumped as all of us. One of them said the visit was a massive boost to their community and they gave up their entire weekend to help the team. The hospitality has been unbelievable from all the Coordinators. We went to the tea plantation of one of the volunteers for a visit and it was fascinating. He treated us to a BBQ and we even walked away with a bag of exquisite tea leaves. It is part of their island culture here that everyone shares what he or she has and it is very much a ‘relational’ community.”
It has been so humbling to see so many people travel from far away villages to get their sight checked.
Although the initiative was a huge success, overall many more people than initially expected turned up and the number of glasses available ran short. “It has been so humbling to see so many people travel from far away villages to get their sight checked. We have had to turn away the last batch due to a lack of time and optometrists under tremendous strain to cope with the influx. The conditions varied and some facilities were hot and humid, worsened by a large volume of people trying to squeeze into the room”, said Regina Lau. Our contact from Tea Leaf Vision commented: “We are so glad that the community benefited from the program a lot more than we expected. Our only sadness is that we had to turn away another couple of hundred people who had made such long journeys – we will arrange another screening camp for them.”
For now local optometrists will finish off the work, distributing remaining glasses, and the Australian team is hoping to return again in 12 months. However, these testimonials show the desperate need for eye care that exists in this country of 20 million inhabitants. Although this mission is only a small step towards the aim of helping the 2.5 billion people in the world who suffer from uncorrected poor vision – for those who benefited from this project, the pair of eyeglasses they received was a real life changer.