Volunteer Eye Health Mentors

Providing support and guidance to optometrists in emerging communities 

Optometry Giving Sight is pleased to have provided funding to support the development of a unique online training program for volunteer optometrists to become eye health mentors.

As part of the course, which is developed and implemented by the Brien Holden Vision Institute, participants learn about effective models of mentoring new optometrists in emerging contexts and the type of challenges present in those environments.

The new optometrists gain support and guidance in practice, are able to develop their clinical, dispensing and patient management skills, and with their newfound confidence, help develop a strong and sustainable eye care system in their countries.

A group of 12 participants successfully completed the Eye Health Mentors online course in April and were then invited to apply for volunteer roles as mentors to graduates from schools of optometry in Kenya and Malawi.

ErinAndChikodTwo of the successful participants included Dr. Erin Loewen (pictured right), an optometrist from Winnipeg in Canada and Chikodi (left) an optometrist from Lagos in Nigeria. They travelled to Kenya together on a fully self-funded two-week volunteer trip to Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST).

Much of their time was spent at the local Academic Vision Centre supervising the graduates. This was followed by informal discussions about cases with the group while providing valuable feedback and identifying any deficiencies in their skills and knowledge. They also did demonstrations of various clinical techniques, including binocular vision testing and contact lenses.

“I found the volunteer visits very useful for the growth of Optometry practice in emerging schools, not only in Africa but in other developing countries,” said Dr. Okenwa, head of the Optometry Department at the university.


The course was also very well received by the mentees. “It was two weeks of my time and it was worth it,” said Collins. “There were things I could not appreciate during my studies, but through these practical sessions we had with the mentors, I am more comfortable with ‘difficult’ procedures. Also, procedures I deemed ‘irrelevant’. I now believe that’s what makes me an optometrist and not just a refractionist. A mind once stretched by a new experience can never go back to its original dimension.”

KateandFanizoDr. Kate MacNeill from Canada (pictured above with optometry graduate Fanizo) undertook her volunteer mentor assignment in November. She visited the vision centre in Mchinji, Malawi. Kate spent two weeks mentoring Fanizo from Mzuzu University, Malawi. She spent a lot of one-on-one time with Fanizo supervising him and assisting with his clinical skills.

Kate also provided mentoring on the general vision centre and patient management, encouraging him to keep patient records and suggesting ways of improving the vision centre set-up to improve efficiency. Kate‘s experience was extremely rewarding despite the contextual challenges of being based in a rural city of Malawi. She will be staying in touch with Fanizo through the online platform developed by the Institute so that she can continue providing mentoring support from a distance.

If you are interested in future volunteer opportunities with the Brien Holden Vision Institute please visit here.

Please note that placements are self-funded by the volunteer unless otherwise specified.