Optometry students in Haiti receive invaluable hands-on training, despite civil unrest

Imagine a population of 11 million people—and only two optometrists.

This ratio is a reality in Haiti, a country that has faced significant, continuous hardships including political instability, a poor economy, natural disasters, the COVID pandemic, and more. Access to eye care outside of the major cities is nearly nonexistent except for services delivered during medical mission trips.

In 2017, Optometry Giving Sight (OGS) partnered with Université d’Etat d’Haiti, Université de Montréal, VOSH/International, Charity Vision, and the Brien Holden Foundation to establish the Haiti School of Optometry. The partners set out to increase the number of locally trained optometrists and to establish an Academic Vision Centre to provide hands-on optometric training and care.

Today, there are about 60 students enrolled in the five-year program, which is set to graduate its first class of optometrists if not for a few roadblocks. Due to civil unrest in Haiti, in-person clinical training is difficult to obtain for the fifth-year students. COVID restrictions made it difficult for foreign optometric educators to travel to Haiti, and unreliable internet access is prohibitive for online learning. In addition, there is uncertainty surrounding government legislation to recognize optometry as a licensed medical profession.

Despite these challenges, the Haiti School of Optometry continues to operate, and its students remain committed to receiving their education and ultimately, providing eye care in their communities. But there is still work to be done to ensure this is possible.

Optometry Giving Sight has granted financial assistance and invested resources to continue supporting the school over the last few years and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. Not only has the support enabled improved internet access for online education, but OGS has also worked with VOSH/International to deliver in-person teaching clinics for the graduating class.

Thus in 2021, VOSH-Pennsylvania led an educational mission, via a project called Je ayisyen (Haitian eyes) through which students enhanced their clinical skills, gained much-needed practice with patients, and built their confidence. This first clinic was held at the New Hope Hospital in Cap-Haïtien, north of Haiti, and the experience underscored the students’ need for more supervised clinical training and access to patients to complete their optometry education.

Deteriorating safety and security in Haiti delayed the delivery of a second teaching clinic, but ultimately, OGS, VOSH/International, VOSH-Pennsylvania and partners were able to make it happen again at the new eye care clinic at the same New Hope Hospital. Eleven fifth-year students from the Haiti School of Optometry spent a week there, where they were able to refresh their knowledge and skills related to clinical procedures, equipment handling, patient forms, and work organization. The students saw a total of 289 patients—an average of 26 patients per student—and completed the necessary patient records for each.

“I arrived at Cap-Haïtien stressed because it had been a long time since I had seen a patient. But by the time we left, I realized that although there are things to improve, I am ready,” said one of the students in a post-clinic survey. “The stress I felt about obtaining my diploma has completely disappeared and I know now that I’m made to be an optometrist.”

The students’ time in the clinic also reinforced the impact optometrists can have on the lives of their patients. From helping a patient with excruciating pain relieve his eye pressure with medication to diagnosing a four-month-old baby with cataracts rather than retinoblastoma, lives were undoubtedly changed. Even the ability to prescribe glasses confirmed for the students the positive difference they can make with eye care.

“In the first clinic, I saw what the job of the optometrist is,” remarked another student. “In the second clinic, I saw what I can do as an optometrist. Thank you to each of you who contributed to the efforts and time availability to make this clinic possible.”

The Haiti School of Optometry is currently backed by an OGS-supported international consortium composed of Université de Montréal, Brien Holden Foundation and Université d’Etat d’Haiti.

To support current and future optometry students in Haiti and around the world, please donate today.

WestGroupe and Carl Zeiss Vision Canada Contribute More Than $234,000 to date through their ValuePak Promotion

For seven consecutive years, WestGroupe and Carl Zeiss Vision Canada have donated a portion of the proceeds raised from its ValuePak frame and lens package—which includes Superflex® frames and synchrony® lenses—and now their LenZ Pak packages—to Optometry Giving Sight (OGS). Through this ongoing promotion, the companies have raised more than $234,000 to date in cumulative funds for OGS, the only organization dedicated to eradicating uncorrected refractive error through the growth and expansion of optometry around the world.

Image of PromotionWith support from WestGroupe and Carl Zeiss Vision Canada—both of which are recognized as OGS Canadian Platinum Partners—OGS has been able to fund vital projects in areas of the world with little to no access to eye care, including providing necessary equipment to optometry students in Malawi, establishing a school of optometry in Vietnam, and helping underserved people in Canada receive eye exams and glasses.

“Broadening access to equitable eye care and raising awareness of the importance of healthy vision is at the core of everything that Optometry Giving Sight stands for,” said Lois Schoenbrun, Executive Director, OGS. “We are endlessly grateful for our partnerships with West Groupe and Carl Zeiss Vision, and what their ongoing support enables us to accomplish around the world.”

“We believe that giving back is not just a responsibility, but a privilege,” says Bryan Rossi, President, Carl Zeiss Vision Care, Canada. “Together, we have the power to make a positive impact on the lives of those in need, and it is our honor to extend a helping hand.”

In addition to their annual ValuePak contributions, WestGroupe and Carl Zeiss Vision Canada participate every year in Optometry Giving Sight’s World Sight Day Challenge, for which each Platinum Partner holds several fundraising events throughout the year and includes upper management involvement and support. To learn more about the World Sight Day Challenge, please visit givingsight.org/wsdc/.

“Whether it’s through the ValuePak initiative with Carl Zeiss Vision or participating in the annual World Sight Day Challenge, we’ve always been a longstanding partner and supporter of OGS,” said Michael Suliteanu, President, WestGroupe. “It’s humbling to know that we’re playing a role in supporting the shared mission to provide access to eye care services and solutions to those most in need.”

For more information about the ValuePak packages, please contact your WestGroupe or Carl Zeiss Vision representative, or call +1 (800) 268-6489.

Over the last 20 years, OGS funding has provided basic eye care services to more than 8 million people, assisted with training more than 14,000 eye care personnel, established more than 130 vision centers, and served people in more than 40 countries. In the last two years alone, OGS has provided funding to more than 30 project partners in North America and around the world, totaling more than $1.5M in grants. Click here to make a donation.

Addition of Dr. Susy Yu to Board of Directors

Photo of Dr. Susy Yu, OGS Board DirectorOptometry Giving Sight is pleased to announce the addition of Susy Yu, OD, MBA, FAAO, to our board of directors.

“It is with great pleasure that we welcome Dr. Yu to our board of directors. Her years of experience in optometry—in practice, administration, governance, and leadership—will be an enormous asset as she brings valuable insight to the benefit of OGS and our partners,” said Lois Schoenbrun, executive director, OGS.

Dr. Yu has served for more than 20 years as director of strategy and operations support at Vision Essentials by Kaiser Permanente. She earned her Doctor of Optometry degree from the University of California Berkeley School of Optometry, and a master’s in business administration from the Anderson School at UCLA. Dr. Yu was previously a member of the California State Board of Optometry, and currently serves on the board of National Board of Examiners in Optometry.

Welcoming Nikki Earich as our Development Director, North America

Photo of Nikki EarichWe are pleased to announce the appointment of Nikki Earich as our Development Director, North America. In her new role, Earich is responsible for developing and managing the organization’s fundraising initiatives, while building and strengthening partnerships with optometric practices, eye care professionals, and other key industry stakeholders.

After beginning her career in eye care working as an assistant at her father’s optometry practice, Earich partnered with her mother in 1995 to open the Eyeland of St. John’s, an optical shop in Highland Park, Ill. Soon after, Earich’s brother joined the family business and less than a year later, they opened a second location. In the following years, the company was acquired and came to be known as Spex, where Earich was responsible for all training operations as it expanded to 24 locations across Chicagoland. Since 2016, Earich has served as a staff development consultant for independent eye care professionals and other retail optical shops.

“OGS is truly optometry’s charity. We’re able to give the gift of sight only with the support and partnership of eye care professionals dedicated to the expansion of optometry around the world,” said Lois Schoenbrun, Executive Director, Optometry Giving Sight. “Nikki is one of our own. Her decades of history in optometry and her extensive nonprofit experience will be an invaluable asset as we continue our work to end preventable blindness and vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error. We are excited to have Nikki on our team.”

Prior to joining OGS, Earich served as the Director of Development and Fundraising at The District 75 STEAM Foundation in Mundelein, Ill. During this time, Earich succeeded in raising funds and securing grants that ultimately enabled the foundation to award thousands of dollars to teachers and staff to create programs for students to further their professional development in the science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) disciplines, and granted more than 100 scholarships to low-income families to attend STEAM camps and programs.

“It is exciting to make a full-time return to eye care in this capacity,” said Earich. “I have always been invested in changing lives with better vision and look forward to continuing to make an impact with OGS.”

Earich earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois. She is a certified optician and lecturer through the American Board of Opticianry.

OGS Selects FluoreSCENE Media as Official Social Media Partner & Becomes Charity of Choice for the ODs on Facebook Community

Optometry Giving Sight (OGS) has selected FluoreSCENE Media as its official social media partner to help expand the organization’s reach with eye care professionals as the charity of choice for the ODs on Facebook Community. As optometry’s charity, OGS has a mission to end preventable blindness and vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error. FluoreSCENE Media is the home to the eye care industry’s online conversation with its flagship media community, ODs on Facebook, engaging more than 46,000 eye care professionals.

“We are excited to partner with Dr. Alan Glazier and his team at FluoreSCENE Media, knowing that our vision of a world with universal access to vision and eye care services will reach the largest and most engaged online community of eye care professionals,” said Lois Schoenbrun, CAE (Ret.), FAAO, Executive Director of Optometry Giving Sight. “Our goal is to bring greater awareness to our global efforts via social media in an effort to engage more optometrists in our mission.”

For 20 years, OGS funding has provided funding for basic eye care services to more than 8 million people, supported training of more than 14,000 eye care professionals, funded the establishment of more than 130 vision centers, and served people in more than 40 countries. Rather than funding mission projects that only provide eye exams and glasses, OGS funds the establishment of optometry schools, vision centers, and optical labs. Individuals receive education and training to become optometrists who then stay in their communities to provide ongoing eye care services for years to come. In addition to the thousands who become optometrists, OGS funding contributes to creating opportunities for the millions of people who receive vision care and can now see clearly and better achieve their potential.

“Optometry Giving Sight is truly one of our industry’s most impactful charities. Our goal is to educate our members about the organization’s services and impacts worldwide. We know that eye care professionals will step up to contribute to this great cause when they understand how their support will make a difference in someone’s life and positively impact their future,” said Alan Glazier, OD, FAAO, Dipl. ABO, Founder and President of FluoreSCENE Media.

FluoreSCENE Media is home to the eye care industry’s online conversation. For more than ten years, the ODs on Facebook community has hosted the most active social media discussion in the eye care industry, engaging more than 46,000 eye care professionals. FluoreSCENE Media also reaches an audience of tens of thousands via LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter, providing community, career, and educational resources. The company’s social networks combined with its targeted industry email newsletters provide a unique platform to connect Optometry Giving Sight with eye care professionals.

The new partnership kicks off this week at Vision Expo East in New York City where Optometry Giving Sight will be included as one of the sponsors of the annual ODs on Facebook Party on Friday, March 17. Attendees can learn more about OGS and how they can contribute to the organization during the gathering.


Expanded Partnership between Optometry Giving Sight & VuePoint IDS

Optometry Giving Sight is pleased to announce a newly expanded partnership with VuePoint IDS publications, including CRO (Clinical & Refractive Optometry) Journal and Optik Magazine for the 2023 calendar year. VuePoint IDS, a long-time supporter of OGS, was honored at the Beacon of Light Recognition Event held at Vision Expo West this past September in Las Vegas. The event recognized those individuals and companies that had generously donated more than $100,000 to OGS over the lifetime of the organization so it could meet its mission to end preventable blindness and vision impairment in underserved communities around the world.

This longstanding partnership will be expanded during 2023. VuePoint IDS will provide more than $100,000 of in-kind advertising to OGS in 2023 alone, across all of its Optik print and digital publications, as well as its Clinical & Refractive Optometry online continuing education platform, enabling OGS to reach an audience it may not have had easy access to before. The type and level of market saturation and reach being made available with this expanded partnership will enable OGS to continue to meet its mission to reduce the prevalence of preventable blindness and vision impairment.

Doctors of Optometry will also be able to donate to Optometry Giving Sight when registering for CE courses through CRO.


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YOU Make a Difference – Meet Yamilet from Mexico!

At her primary school in Cienega de Zimatlan, Mexico, Yamilet Castellanos struggled to see her books and the whiteboard at the front of the class. She describes what she went through in school as follows:

“I was constantly asking the teacher to give me a seat in the front lines – because when she asked me to sit in the rear lines I couldn’t see the board.”

Her father Remundo was badly injured in an accident and has been unable to work. The family’s meager income comes from the tortillas Yamilet’s mother, Maria, makes and sells in the community.

Both her parents suspected Yami, as her parents call her, had an eye problem but were unable to access vision care services due to their extremely limited resources.

Maria commented, “When she would write the homework, to do, it was incorrect.”

Yami also knew there was a problem.

However, one day her life changed because a proper eye exam was performed, and the right prescription recorded. A new – free pair of glasses, especially made for children in Mexico – was chosen.

Yami can see, learn, and play like other children in this rural community. This result was made possible through a partnership between the Ver Bien Foundation, an organization in Mexico committed to providing optometric care and high quality eyeglasses to all children in public schools in Mexico, and Optometry Giving Sight to provide vision services in Yami’s village. We can’t do what we do without the entire OGS community. Yami’s story is made possible by that community – by YOU!

For her parents, there is relief and gratitude, as noted by Remundo. “I’m very thankful for all the help and all the countries that are helping to provide visual help to the children of Mexico.”

As we conclude the Spring Campaign and move into the warm weather of the summer months, please remember Yami, Kiet whom you met earlier this year, and the graduates of the optometry school in Malawi, all stories authored by people like YOU. We must continue to create magic together and provide the gift of sight and hope, on a long-term, sustainable basis, so no one in need of vision care ever goes without. Please join us today by making a closing gift to our Spring Campaign using the donate button at the top of the page or by clicking here.

Thank you to all of our generous and committed donors for the ongoing impact you make!