Every year teams of 10 volunteers travel the length of the Mekong river aboard a boat equipped as an ophthalmic clinic. They bring eye care to remote rural villages in Cambodia. Maire-Alice Girault, an Essilor medical advisor in France, shares her volunteer experience.

“It was humbling to be able to provide something very tangible and very precious to people – the ability to see better – something that we often take for granted. It’s a gift that gives them back autonomy in their everyday life.”

“For the past four years, Essilor has worked with Dr Phat-eam Lim, a Franco-Cambodian ophthalmologist who set up a charitable organization [Pour Les Yeux du Monde] to bring basic health support to the rural poor in Cambodia.

Every year there are 6 missions organized up the Mekong river during the dry season spending 10 days at different villages to perform eye operations, eye tests and equip people with glasses. Since 2009, four Essilor volunteers have taken part – Annie Rodriguez, Anne-Laure Piot, Vincent Brisseau and myself.

The major challenges are the working conditions. The boat is organized to offer a consulting area with equipment like automatic refractor and biometer, and an operating theatre with adjoining anaesthetic area down below. The high humidity causes a lot of problems for the equipment and space is extremely limited. Each mission includes a team of ophthalmic surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, opticians and translators.

Everyone helps to enable the team to see as many people as possible from the local villages. Even the boat’s captain is skilled in fitting and mounting glasses! During our 10 day mission we carried out nearly 70 cataract and ptyergium (removing abnormal tissue from the cornea) operations, over 600 consultations and issued 260 pairs of glasses. As one young ophthalmologist said “We gained several years’ experience in just 10 days”