We met Drissa earlier in the year when he focused on his Masters in vision science at the optometry school of l’Université de Montréal. He also represented Optometry Giving Sight at a conferences recently in Quebec
We were keen to find out how it was all going for Drissa so we asked him for an update:
"I reflect on the last six months of finishing the first part of my program from January to June 2017. I would like to share that these were very difficult times as I was confronted by numerous challenges, not with just with my adaptation to this new life, but also with understanding the language, and understanding the new nature convening my courses.
The change of environment is enormous even without considering the temperature factor. It was dark at 17:00, the winter weather was harsh, I was far of the family environment with my wife pregnant and young family left far behind me. To complicate matters further I had to get used to the local food and learn to cook with it and after a few failed attempts – I ate my first self-cooked meal!
At the optometry school, the first problem was been how the courses were delivered here in Canada which was different from my country. The explanations from the professors were often based on prior courses that I had not taken and the French Québec accent is very pronounced when listening to certain professors. The course that particularly challenged me was ocular health. It was a first for me to have such advanced courses in eye health which shows once again the high level of the training here. The remarkable availability of the professors helped me to overcome these difficulties. They were accessible to answer my questions and very willing to give me the previous course materials. The clinical activities made it easier for me to understand these courses even better and the importance of the internships.
I finished the first part of the program in June but had started the clinic already in February, so I worked at both classes and clinic until June. One of the challenges was to conform to this new level of practice, the working environment (instruments, patient records, and time pressures), the new types of patients, their philosophies, and the school philosophy – really not very easy to acquire in such a short time.
On July 13, I went to home to Mali for four weeks, as I had be allowed two weeks holiday and two weeks that the school gave me to attend to the birth of my child. These few weeks were very important to me and my family. It allowed me to renew with my reality, to visit IOTA and to re-evaluate my objectives. I was able to discuss my training with my superiors, the optometry program in Montréal, and compare with our program in Mali. They were very happy to receive my suggestions. The most important part was the exchanges with my fellow Optometric Technicians – current students of the school and seeing that they are motivated to study, to do upskilling courses, and especially to explain to them the outstanding benefit of having the Master’s program in our country. Like myself, no one could afford a foreign program without the international support I was lucky to receive. I am so grateful for my valuable opportunity from the various stakeholders including Optometry Giving Sight.
Pictured from left to right at the Salon Vision booth in Montreal: Jean-Marie, Drissa, Carole and Luigi Bilotto, BHVI's Director of Education
Being back in Mali, I once again realized the importance that optometrists can have and all that they can do to help the public eye health system in Mali, which covers 1 241 238 square kilometres with over 17 million people and less than 400 eye health personnel. We have a desperate need for more eye care professionals and also further training for the 400 we have. In short, Mali needs more knowledge of diagnostic techniques, ocular health and pharmacology in order to expand our scope of practice.
I think that having the Master level education is now a necessity for Mali to make optometry evolve, not only for my country but also for all counties where access to eye care is difficult for the population, in the Africa region.
I had a very good moment with my family. My wife gave birth to a girl on August 10 and my return to Montreal was the very next day on August 11. They were very happy to spend time with me, especially my sons (2-year-old and 10 months) but I have to admit the return was more difficult than my first arrival here.
I arrived August 12 in Montreal, and with my head full of my new daughter and my baby sons, I resumed the clinic and the second part of the courses.
I thank Carole Melançon and her husband Jean-Marie Desroches, as well as Luigi Bilotto and his family, who offered many gifts to my family for the birth of my daughter. I also thank them for their availability and all that they have done and continue to do, but also Brien Holden Vision Institute, l’Ecole d’optometrie de l’Universite de Montreal, and the donors such as Optometry Giving Sight and the Australian Government who have contributed from far to my journey."
P.S: We are delighted to provide a post script to this story. Drissa has now completed his Diploma and returned to Mali where he will resume his Faculty responsibilities at IOTA, the Institute where the Optometry Diploma is taught. At the beginning of January staff from the School of Optometry at the University of Montreal (ÉOUM) organized to have an "official" graduation photo of Drissa receiving his diploma from the Director and the teachers who were closest to him. His real diploma will be sent to him later in April.
Pictured from left to right): Benoit Tousignant O.D., Thesis Director; Christian Casanova, Director of ÉOUM, Drissa Coulibaly and Julie Brûlé, Thesis Director).