Volunteers help bring vision care to over one thousand Burmese people in need - Essilor See Change

Essilor volunteers participated in a medical mission in Mandalay, Myanmar, to bring eye care to people who often don’t have access to basic medical services. We talked to two volunteers who participated in this Essilor Vision Foundation-supported mission and shared their experience at the medical camp with us.

Myanmar ranks lowest of all the Southeast Asian countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). The country still lacks any sort of substantial administrative public health capacity, spending only approximately 2% of its GDP on public healthcare, compared to 4.5% in Laos or  5.6% in Cambodia.

A study published in 2009 by the Journal of Clinical Ophthalmology revealed that the number of people that suffer from avoidable blindness and other visual impairments is particularly high in rural parts of the country, due to the shortage of basic eye care resources, opticians and ophthalmologists across the country.

With 1.2 million people, Mandalay is the second-largest city and the last royal capital in Myanmar, in addition to being the cultural and religious center of Buddhism. This February, Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF) joined hands with the NGO Humanitarian with Love and traveled to Mandalay as part of a medical mission that gathered about 200 volunteers from several countries, including doctors, dentists, physicians and optometrists, to help locals in need of basic healthcare.

Around 3000 Burmese people from different parts of the country traveled to the camp during the 2 ½ days of the mission. Both children and adults, often coming from remote areas where they don’t have access to medical services, were given consultation, treatment and prescriptions for medication if necessary. The volunteer optometrists tested the vision of over one thousand people; 1050 patients were equipped with free spectacles and one thousand free sunglasses were given away.

We talked to two Essilor volunteers who participated in this mission and who shared their insights with us. Nuttida Promsorn from Essilor Thailand explained her role during this project:

“My role in this operation was to make sure that all the patients went through the different steps of the eye examination and that they received glasses if vision imperfections were detected or sunglasses if no correction was needed. I also assisted the eye care professionals in the actual vision tests with the alphabet chart and in documenting the activities by taking pictures of the patients.”

You soon notice that collaboration and team spirit are fundamental if you want philanthropic projects to succeed.

Nuttida has already volunteered for EVF in the past, joining a recent mission in Laos. She shared her experience and key learnings from the mission in Myanmar:

“I’m very happy and proud to have been part of this mission: it was a  very good experience to help people in need. Also I had the opportunity to learn more about team work and how to distribute roles and responsibilities among the different functions that this campaign required. You soon notice that collaboration and team spirit are fundamental if you want philanthropic projects to succeed.”

For Wee Sing Ong from Essilor R&D – Center for Innovation & Technology Asia it was the first time to go on a mission with EVF although she volunteered for several other philanthropic projects before. Wee, who joined Essilor in March last year and works as an optometrist researcher at Essilor’s Research and Development center based in Singapore, talks about her first impression when she arrived at the medical camp:

“The mission site was very impressive. It was conducted at a single storey building in Bodhi Tatuang that was part of a monastery. Next to the building there was a giant Buddha statue, Mahar Bodhi Tataung Laykyun Setkyar, which literally means “Bodhi tree thousand” and refers to the many thousands of Bodhi trees (the tree under which Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment) that were planted here a few decades ago. Built in 2008, the statue is 129 meters tall and the second tallest statue in the world.”

Not only was the mission site was very impressive, but also the “spirit” among the people that participated in this project and joined forces to ensure its success: “There was a strong community bonding within the different teams of expertise. Many of these volunteers knew each other before, through previous volunteer projects. These experienced volunteers were very professional and the event was perfectly organized. For the locals, this was a really big event, which has received strong media coverage by local newspapers” explains Wee further.

I saw many patients who traveled from far to attend the camp. This showed me the need for such outreach projects as people often don’t have access to the services we offered them.

When we asked Wee to share one experience with us that she found particularly remarkable she explained: “I was surprised that many patients traveled from far to attend the camp. This showed me the need for such outreach projects as people often don’t have access to the services we offered them. I remember one little girl, she was maybe about six years old. Her mother needed glasses but couldn’t accompany her so the kid came all the way to the camp by herself. She gave us some basic information and we provided her with the appropriate glasses for her mother. I also met a traditional physician who was highly myopic. He told us he was neither able to remember nor recognize his patients because he could not see them clearly. He was incredibly happy with the glasses we have provided him with, because it is now possible for him to recognize his patients.”

Photo credits: Yong Jin Hao.