For most donors, it is a rare opportunity to be able to witness the work they are helping to support firsthand.
When Gail Hoole was given the chance to visit the Sumba Eye Program (SEP) as a volunteer in 2012, she jumped at the chance. Gail, who is the co-owner and operator of eyewear distributor, Mondottica, had known about the program and been a donor for a number of years.
“I originally heard about the program through Melbourne optometrist Peter Stewart, who has been involved since the team first starting visiting Sumba,” Gail said. “I was willing to work at anything – I really just wanted to see for myself how the program assisted people.”
Optometry Giving Sight has contributed funding towards the annual trips made by Australian teams of optometrists, opthalmologists, and other health care professionals since 2010. These trips aim to both deliver eye care services to the people of Sumba, as well as implementing a teaching program for prospective Eye Care Nurses, to provide a sustainable infrastructure for the local community.
Ms Hoole’s role predominantly involved helping with data entry of patient information including who was seen, why they were seen and the outcome of their examination, as well as documenting the trip as an amateur photographer.
Peter Lewis, who leads the team of optometrists, alongside Peter Stewart, reported that the 2012 SEP trip was extremely successful. “More than 700 people were screened with 568 pairs of spectacles dispensed, and close to 100 people were referred for surgery or further procedures.”
Additionally, with the amount of equipment that has now been secured in collaboration with other organisations, Mr Lewis has said the team is much closer to setting up a viable permanent eye clinic.
“We now have a commitment from our partner organisation, the Sumba Foundation, to provide a room at one of their outreach clinics to house a proposed Optometry Clinic and Dispensary,” he said.
“We have two table mounted slit lamps, two operating microscope, an A scan, at least three trial sets and eye charts and two or three years supply of ready-made spectacles located securely at the Sumba Foundation headquarters. We have been able to do this through evolution of a binding trust between our organisations.”
The Sumba Eye Program is also made up of members from the Royal Australian College of Surgeons, with support from Optometry Giving Sight and the Rotary Clubs of Kew and Glenferrie.
Ms Hoole said the trip has been a highlight of her life.
“To see how something so simple as a person being given a pair of glasses and the joy of someone experiencing having their sight restored was such an emotional experience,“ she said. “The way the Sumbanese people responded with such humility and thankfulness to the ophthalmic surgeons, the nurses, the optometrists, and indeed to anyone in the team, would bring a tear to anyone’s eyes,” she said.
“Another highlight was seeing the great benefits that the program is having for the younger generation of Sumbanese people.” Ms Hoole particularly remembers a seven year old girl, Kristin, who had a script of minus 12. With her new glasses, Kristin has renewed her love of maths and dancing.
The Sumba Eye Program team will return for a visit in 2013, and Ms Hoole said she is thrilled to be joining them once again.
“To have seen how one program works, I can only imagine other projects that Optometry Giving Sight funds benefit,” said Ms Hoole.
“While I know not everyone will get the chance to volunteer their time, becoming a regular donor is a way any member of our industry can be an active part of the work of Optometry Giving Sight. Every donation, whether large or small, can help people to give the life changing gift of sight.”