670 million people - 10% of the world's population - are disadvantaged by poor vision and a lack of glasses. Vision Aid Overseas is an international charity dedicated to transforming access to eye care services in developing countries. Since their foundation in 1985, Vision Aid Overseas has worked in 26 countries and helped over 1 million patients to see.
The Club has provided support by participating in their local optometrist teams and collecting spectacles for their nationwide spectacle collection scheme which ensured spectacles are recycled in an environmentally-friendly way and which raises money (£196,000 in 2015). This enables them to fight poverty by transforming access to eye care in developing countries in Africa so that kids and adults there can have vision again to attend school, to work and to support their families.
The Rotary in Ireland Centenary Spectacles Project with Vision Aid Overseas
The Club collected spectacles for many years and from 2000, the Rotary Clubs of Belfast and North Down worked closely together collecting them - the North Down Club having developed a very attractive and effective collecting box.
However in 2008, with just over 50,000 pairs collected, the Club set itself a challenge to collect 100,000 pairs by June 2012 to mark the end of the Club's Centenary year. This was supported by Rotary Ireland and in March 2009 the Centenary Spectacles Project was launched by District. Many of the 76 Clubs in the District either made contact for information or sent spectacles directly to us. The Club for its part welcomed the opportunity to recycle used spectacles for which there was no longer a direct need.
The Rotary Club of Belfast is delighted that the target was exceeded, with over 125,000 collected, end June 2011 - even before the start of our Centenary Year!
After a preliminary sort locally, spectacles were packed to be transported to Vision Aid Overseas by Hayes D.X.Network Services, a mail and logistics company. This company transports, for manufacturers, spectacles to optometrist's prescriptions and delivers completed spectacles to optometrists throughout Ireland. It collected the old spectacles for us on their rounds. This transport was provided free through the generosity of the company.
The collected glasses were transported to prisons throughout the UK where prisoners were trained to clean, grade and pack the glasses ready for their use in the developing world. Finally the glasses were sent abroad with Vision Aid Overseas teams. Glasses were only dispensed after a full eye examination and great care was taken to match them to the patient.
The Rotary Club of Belfast increased the scope of collections by speaking to primary and preparatory schools and also by providing speakers for a number of church organisations. The Club is grateful to the Council Recycling Centres in Belfast and Castlereagh where we had access to their special "Wheelie Bins " for spectacles. We have been well received over the years by the Council workers.
Natalie Briggs, Chief Executive, Vision Aid Overseas spoke to the Club March 2011 and thanked the Club for its contribution of then 93,124 spectacles. She is pictured here with (from left) PE Alan Rundle, President Brian Clements, members Dick Thornton and David Brennan.
The Club is very grateful to all those people who have so generously given of their time to donate, collect, or process spectacles for Vision Aid Overseas. Vision Aid no longer refurbish spectacles but now collect them and use the funds generated to send out hundreds of optical volunteers who are able to treat thousands of patients by giving them an eye test and correctly prescribed glasses.
David Brennan and Dick Thornton were presented with the Club's Harry Corscadden Award for their outstanding collection of spectacles for Vision Aid Overseas. more here...
Vision Aid Teams
Vision Aid regularly send out teams of optometrists to provide training to local optometry students and then to take them on outreach trips. In January 2012 PE Alan Rundle went to Ghana as part of one of these teams. The team (shown below - click on images to enlarge) consisted of 6 optometrists and a VAO trustee and, based on the university campus in Ghana's second city of Kumasi, they offered training to local optometry students, who then joined them on outreach trips within the "Kuapacoco Fair Trade Communities".
During their 14 day trip the team provided screening for over 800 individuals, prescribing spectacles when appropriate, and referring to the local eye hospital any conditions that required further intervention.
Reporting back to a Club meeting he stated: "It was the most remarkable fortnight. Very challenging, but also very rewarding. It was a great opportunity to work with a group of very talented young optometrists and also to meet some wonderful people in their local environment."