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All across the country, our optometrists are very involved in their communities, active in their optometric associations and focused on giving back in a number of different ways.
Through the Eye Recommend Giving Circle, individual offices donate their time and money to a number of different charities that benefit vision improvement around the world including Canadian Vision Care, Optometry Giving Sight and Third World Eye Care.
Our professionals work hard to create a sense of community inside the office as well. When you arrive at any of our hundreds of independently owned practices, you will find highly qualified and trained staff, family-style honesty in a friendly, clean and welcoming space.
When most of us pack up for ten days in Central America, we think about bringing along beach wear and plenty of sunscreen. When Dr. Jeff Mann went off to Nicaragua in late 2011, he left with more than two dozen boxes of donated glasses and optometry equipment.
Mann, an optometrist in south eastern B.C., was one of 26 eye doctors, opticians and other volunteers who paid their own way to Chinandega, Nicaragua to provide free eye care and glasses to thousands of underprivileged people.
It was the latest eye care project organized by TWECS—Third World Eye Care Canada—a non-profit group that targets the “poorest of the poor” in poverty-stricken countries around the world.
“For the people of Chinandega, a pair of glasses is equivalent to about a year’s salary,” Mann says. “So many of them have very, very high prescriptions and they are functionally blind only because they have no glasses. It’s so bad that a 30 year old adult is sitting at home because he can’t see past his arm.”
The trip to Nicaragua was Mann’s second with TWECS. He also travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a three week project in 2009. He says the trips have been “life-changing” for both him and his two adult daughters—one of whom accompanied him on each trip, and both of whom are pursuing careers in nursing as a direct result of the satisfaction they felt on helping improve impoverished peoples’ eye health in the third world.
“After 20 years of practicing, you realize what a lot of our patients take for granted, and that’s covered by government, just does not exist at all for millions and millions of people around the world,” says Mann.
Being able to make a difference for just some of those people is extremely meaningful, Mann says. “Once you know where these people live and what their day is like, once you know that and you come back to a very safe clean, civil beautiful place to live, you just realize how unfair it is. You really appreciate how lucky we are.”
Mann says he and his daughters—as well as other TWECS volunteers—go through a period of adjustment after getting back from helping people in the third world, something he is planning to do with TWECS every other year.
“These trips are completely self-sufficient,” he says. “They are a shoestring operation where everything is donated. We pay our own way on the trip, we pay our own food and accommodation and we bring our own equipment.”
Yet, Mann says, he feels enriched by the experience.
“I selected TWECS to pay it forward because it’s the greatest need and it’s endless and you just feel so good after you’ve spent some time with that.”
TWECS—Third World Eye Care Society Canada—An organization started by an optometrist and her husband in Vancouver nearly two decades ago has brought better vision to more than 70,000 people in 15 countries around the world. Began in 1995 because Dr. Marina Roma-March wanted to honour her grandmother. “I was very close to her,” Roma-March says. “She was waiting for me to graduate from optometry school and she was hoping I could bring her back to the Philippines because she knew her days were numbered.”
Her grandmother died before the young doctor was able to take her home, but Roma-March and her husband, research scientist Derrick March, decided to go anyway. They brought along a team of doctors and volunteers as well as boxes of glasses donated by people in Vancouver. Once the team finished helping underprivileged people in Manila, the couple took a long plane ride and longer drive to deliver 300 pairs of glasses to people in the village where her grandmother grew up.
When they came back to Canada, word started to spread and TWECS was officially born. Since then, it’s had more than 15 eye care projects to different poverty-stricken countries around the world, bringing hundreds of dedicated opticians, optometrists, ophthalmologists and others who volunteer their time and cover their own expenses to come and help.
“What’s really heartwarming are all the people who we meet along the way,” Roma-March says. “It’s because of their willingness to sacrifice their time and travel with us that we are able to get as far as we have today. They are so wonderful.”
When the volunteer team arrives in a town, they set up a mobile clinic in a church, school or even a town square—anywhere people from surrounding villages can find them. Over the course of 10 days, the team can help as many as 6,000 people by giving them eye exams, proper eyeglasses and depending on the mission, cataract surgeries.
Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, the Mount Pleasant Lions Club, Burnaby Lougheed Lions Club and optometry clinics help raise money as well as collect and sort thousands of pairs of eyeglasses for the next TWECS mission.
“We have a number of requests for missions,” says Roma-March. “We do extensive research into the feasibility of a project, the political stability of the country, the reputation of our hosts and the logistics. Safety is the upmost concern for us.”
The last trip in November, 2011 was to Chinandega, Nicaragua. TWECS is headed back to the Philippines, to the slums of Manila, in 2012 and planning a trip to Brazil the year after.
Roma-March admits some days she is overwhelmed by the organization’s success. “I can’t take it in and appreciate how much it’s grown because I am just so engrossed in it day-to-day, whether it’s answering emails or writing out tax receipts or designing thank you brochures. It doesn’t really hit me.”
But she says TWECS is only able to bring better vision to underprivileged people around the world because of the doctors and others who volunteer their time.
“Without their support and their generosity TWECS would just be an idea,” she says. “A nice idea.”
Learn more about different missions and how to lend a hand at www.twecs.ca