SightFirst project just keeps growing

By Michael Goldschmidt


Way back in late 1986 the Lions Club of Christchurch Ferrymead was approached by the then 202E District Governor about a Sight First project which was being developed to recycle old spectacles in New Zealand and send them to the Pacific Islands, where they would be re-used by Volunteer Ophthalmologist Services Overseas (VOSO) to donate suitable eye glasses to Pacific Islanders in need.

The Lions Club of Ferrymead jumped at the idea and used almost all its project funds to buy a Topcon Digital Lens Meter and Sonic bath - the latest and greatest at the time. The Club set up a team who would meet each week, and check the many thousands of disused and unwanted spectacles that were being forwarded from all over the South Island and parts of the North Island, from other Lions Clubs, opticians, Christchurch International airport, undertakers, Christchurch Police station, and individuals.

In the past 25 years we estimate we have handled more than 38,000 pairs per year and send some 2100 optical pairs plus about 280 pairs of sunglasses to VOSO each year. Amazingly, two of the team of six working on this project are original members of the start-up team from 25 years ago.

On arrival at our club meeting place in Ferrymead Historic Park Christchurch the spectacles go through an extensive check for wear and tear, damaged lenses or frames, multi-focal or bi-focal. If the spectacles pass that test (about 10% of the total) they are then cleaned in an ultrasonic bath and the lenses checked on our Topcon Digital lens meter, packed with the lens readings and dispatched to VSOS in Auckland Hospital, for sending to the South Pacific Islands.

VOSO consists of teams of volunteer eye surgeons, optometrists and eye care workers who visit the isolated communities during their vacations and bring enhancement to the lives of hundreds of people annually. VOSO works in closely with the local Lions Club of Labasa, who organise the visits to isolated communities in Northern Fiji.

Early in the 2012-13 Lions year our Lions Club of Ferrymead had a surprise visit from Dr Tam, LCIF Chairman. While with us for a social visit, we demonstrated what we do with the spectacles.

Dr Tam made a personal promise that he would help us, through LCIF, purchase the latest technology in lens meters if we made an application for a Seeding Grant. As anyone would appreciate, we were thrilled with his offer of assistance.

After a thorough investigation of lens meters and some advice from the leader of one of VOSO teams to Fiji, the Club opted for a Reichert AL500 meter and applied to LCIF for a Seeding Grant to finance its purchase, which we were thrilled was granted.

Our new Reichert AL500 was delivered early May 2013. The new machine has made it possible to do the lens tests faster; we are able to do single, double and multi-focal lenses, as well as optical sunglasses, which will assist VOSO no end and bring improved vision to many more South Pacific Islanders. We intend to continue supplying VOSO for many years to come.


Seeing the end result

Ferrymead Lion Hugh Curry accompanied the VOSO team to Fiji in July so he could report back to LCIF on the value of the Seeding Grant. He reports:

The VOSO team flew from Christchurch to Nadi then on to Labasa on the northern island of Vanua Levu, where we were joined by optometrist Ravi Dass and nurse Marietta. That night we were welcomed by the Lions Club of Labasa.     

Optometrists Michael Brown and Ravi conducted eye examinations for five days at Labasa Hospital, issuing prescriptions that were dispensed by Lions assisted by nurses. At the same time Drs Malcolm McKellar and Anthony Suter, assisted by nurses Anita, Samantha and Marietta, were performing cataract operations in one of Labasa HospitalÕs operating theatres.

Optometrists Hywell Bower and Lucy Liu drove anything up to two hours each way daily to outlying villages to conduct eye examinations and issue spectacles, assisted by Labasa Lions.

Around 100 pairs of spectacles were dispensed daily and 14 to 15 cataract operations were performed each day.


Photo: VOSO optometrist Michael Brown of Rangiora explains to Lion Guy Evans and Lion Neil Pugh what lens tests are required.
Photo by Lion Michael Goldschmidt




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