Specsavers volunteers recently played a crucial role in supporting 2,414 individuals living in Kolkata’s Street and slum communities in India. Among those volunteers, was Lisa Wash, Store Director at Specsavers Liffey Valley, Clondalkin and Maynooth and Abby Gorman, a Dispensing Optician at Specsavers Liffey Valley. As Lisa, Abby and their team navigated the harsh reality while volunteering at The Hope Hospital Eye Clinic, they visited local street and slum communities where they provided eye health care to those living on the streets.
During their week-long trip, the team of expert opticians visited eleven different locations and gave eye checks to 2,414 patients, dispensed over 1,904 glasses, and in more severe cases, referred patients to Hope Hospital for surgery. For the majority of these people this was their first time ever seeing an Optician and availing of the basic of eye health care that we often take for granted here in Ireland.
One of those patients was Clara Halder, a 56-year-old community care giver. A hugely passionate reader, books have always been Clara’s escapism from reality, however in recent years she has struggled with deteriorating vision. What once brought her joy, reading now brought her terrible headaches. Without opportunity or spend to see an Optician or Doctor about her eyesight, she found herself having to sacrifice her passion of reading. However, when Specsavers came to her local community with the mobile Eye Clinic she queued to be seen and was overjoyed when she was prescribed glasses and given a pair on the spot to take home. Speaking to Specsavers she said she ‘can’t believe she gets to take these glasses home and for nothing in return. This is a gift that you cannot possibly understand the value of. This will bring me back my joy, my peace and it’s something for just me to have.’
Despite the seemingly routine nature of the eye care provided, many individuals treated by Specsavers colleagues had never accessed such services before. Dr. Samran, CEO of The Hope Hospital, emphasised the significance of the visit, noting that 90% of cases of blindness could have been prevented if timely treatment was available. This highlights the critical impact of the Specsavers team’s efforts in bringing essential eye care to those who had previously lacked access.
Eight-year-old Amaira Gulzar was brought to the Specsavers eye clinic where she spoke of sore eyes and headaches. On testing, it was clear that she needed glasses and of a very high prescription so the symptoms she complained of were not surprising. Amaira had never realised that she couldn’t see clearly, assuming her vision was how all people saw things. On trying on glasses, she was overwhelmed and surprised, not quite believing the clarity she had been missing out on. Amaira was excited to get to school the next day to see how the blackboard would appear with her new glasses and was so thankful to Specsavers and Hope for giving her clear sight.
For the people seen by Specsavers on this trip to Kolkata, having glasses can be a life changing tool, be it to help in their education or help them to obtain work to support their families. This was the case for 57-year-old Dannu Prasad Ladar. A long-haul driver, Dannu is the sole provider for his family of a wife and three children. Struggling with cataracts in both eyes, Danny’s job was becoming increasingly challenging and stressful, not to mention dangerous. He had refrained from seeking medical intervention in fear that he would lose his job and his family’s source of income and also not be able to afford the healthcare.
He speaks of the night he stumbled upon the Specsavers Night Clinic as a ‘blessing I will be eternally grateful for’. Head of Optometry at TUD, Declan Hovenden, tested Dannu and refereed him to Hope Hospital for surgery where he would avail of double cataract surgery at no cost. Dannu was also prescribed glasses which would alleviate some of his vision issues in the meantime, allowing him to continue working until his surgery. The prescription would then be updated post-surgery at the Hope Hospital to better suit his needs. This support and care will ensure Dannu continues in his employment for many years to come, ensuring the ongoing support of his family.
Following her visit, Lisa Walsh said: ‘I am so grateful that we got the opportunity to visit Kolkata with The Hope Foundation again this year. ‘What’s really wonderful about The Hope Foundation is that they are working alongside the street communities in Kolkata, and they are changing the lives of everyone in this community. It was a privilege to be there to help them on their journey and to see the benefit of our supports to the hundreds of people we treated. ‘Everyone on the team from Specsavers rose to the challenge and really stepped up. They accept the difficult working conditions and give their everything, wanting to work morning and night’.
Abby said: This trip was really special. We were able to treat a lot of children and they were so excited to see us. It’s incredible to think that something so small to us can have such a massive impact on others less fortunate.
At the end of their week-long volunteering trip, Specsavers presented a cheque of €135,000 to founder of The Hope Foundation, Maureen Forrest. This significant donation will play a vital role in sustaining the eye care clinic in Kolkata. Maureen Forrest, Founder of the Hope Foundation explains that this programme ‘is the difference between life and death to people who can’t feed their families.’ She continues: ‘Vision is everything to people and for us to be able to support them in their vision journey is a great privilege.’
In addition to the staff from Specsavers, four optometry students from Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin), Eimear Kilroy, Irene Finnerty, Brid Stack, and Ava Shiels and Paula James along with their Lecturer and Head of Optometry, Declan Hovenden travelled to Kolkata. Specsavers has an academic partnership with TU Dublin, providing expert mentorship and support to students of Optometry. The partnership is to help students develop the necessary skill sets required to excel in a professional environment and in their academic studies, so Specsavers were thrilled to be able to bring some students from the course to Kolkata to help with their mission.
The Hope Foundation Ireland is a registered Irish charity working with street and slum children in Kolkata. The charity works to free children and poor families from lives of pain, abuse, poverty, and darkness and seeks to improve their lives by providing access to healthcare and nutrition, education, drug rehabilitation and life skills and training. With the help of Specsavers and The Hope Foundation, improved eye care will be made available to the children living in slums and hospitals in Kolkata.
To find out more information, request an appointment, or to speak to an expert, please call your local Specsavers team or visit https://www.specsavers.ie/stores.