Millions of people around the world suffer from vision problems, many
of which can be easily corrected with a pair of eyeglasses. That's
where Give the Gift of Sight comes in. This non-profit foundation helps
people reclaim their sight and enhance the way they see the world, and
Give the Gift of Sight Foundation was established two decades ago. "We were founded on a simple belief that clear vision is a basic human right, it's not a luxury." Dr. Craig Hare, foundation's director, says.
"We believe that poor vision and vision loss really impedes an adult's ability to be independent, to get a job, to provide for their family. It's such a basic right to see clearly. For school children, it impedes their ability to learn, adapt academically, but more importantly they get very shy, if they cannot see clearly and if they don't adapt socially either."
Each June, the organization sponsors a used eyewear collection drive across North America.
"This year, Give the Gift of sight needs to collect 1.2 million pair of used eyeglasses," he says. "We're almost half way to that goal."
People can donate eyeglasses at one of the thousands of optical shops that partner with Give the Gift of Sight in this campaign. The group's Global Director of Operations, Mark Durkan, says the next step is to prepare the donated eyeglasses to be reused.
"We tune them up," he says. "We clean them up and classify them by prescription. We have a computerized inventory management program that helps us categorize each and every pair of eyewear that we collect."
Then, he says, organization members head off on two-week missions across the globe, setting up temporary clinics in poor communities in Central and South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. At each stop, they give eye-exams and distribute recycled eyeglasses.
"We do our testing in a kind of, factory type of situation," he says. "In other words, one patient will see probably about 10 different team members along the way. They will get their pre-testing by one person, then the health checked in by another, then the actual refraction done by another person, their glasses are dispensed by another person."
Local agencies and volunteers play a key role in this global mission.
"For example, in Asia, we have partnered with the health authority of the countries we've gone to," he says. "Their nurses come. They help us register people that are in need for more care and do the vision testing. Then the children that are studying English in the various schools come to help us with the translations."
This year, Durkan says, Give the Gift of Sight volunteers will visit more than one dozen countries, helping 20,000 people at each stop.
"When you are on site providing the care, most of the people you encounter are people that have never seen a doctor, never mind an eye-doctor," he says. "So they're very apprehensive, kind of nervous when they are first in, we're trying to make it a fun and kind of interesting atmosphere. So we try to converse with them as much as possible to put them at ease."
Give the Gift of Sight Director Craig Hare says it's amazing to see how a simple pair of eyeglasses can change someone's life.
"We've recently returned from a trip in Mexico," he says. "We helped a middle-aged woman. Her name is Bonita. Bonita is a pig farmer in her hometown. Because of failing vision, Bonita was not able to properly know when the pigs were prepared for market. She honestly had to wrap her arms around the girth of her animals to find out. Not to mention that Bonita has 10 children. Some of them she had never seen clearly. So you can imagine, when we slipped her glasses on, she went running out of our clinic. When we caught up with her to make sure everything was alright, she shared with us that she was about to go to see her children for the first time clearly."
The foundation partners with local Lions clubs and other charitable groups in each country, Hare says, and also in North America, providing services to Americans and Canadians who need eye care.
"We have two traveling vision vans," he says. "These vision vans are basically optical shops on wheels without a cash register. They provide free eye-exams, comprehensive eye-exams and free new pairs of eyeglasses to school children and adults as well. These vision vans in the past 13 years have logged 300,000 miles, traveling across North America and helped hundreds of thousands of United States and Canadian children see clearly."
Give the Gift of Sight is expanding its global reach every year, Hare says, helping more and more people see life clearly.