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See a better world: one pair of eyeglasses at a time June 18, 2012

Posted by George Dong in China, Fulbright.
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George Dong

George Dong

After a two-hour flight and a seven-hour bumpy bus ride, I finally arrived at Yongbao Middle School in Lincang County, located in Yunnan Province, in southwest China. Yongbao is one of the poorest areas in China, with an average annual household income of only $630. This was my second time visiting the school. Nothing seemed to have changed: students were still carrying big smiles on their faces as bright as the sun on the blue sky. During my first trip to Yongbao, I found that less than 2% of the students with poor vision had glasses to correct their vision. These incidences of uncorrected poor vision hinder many students from academic achievement in spite of their capabilities because they can’t do simple tasks such as taking notes from the blackboard when they can’t see well. It was obvious to me that many students need glasses, yet almost none have them.

After working tirelessly on a grant, we received $3,000 to implement an eyeglass project in three schools of Lincang County thanks to Lucy Ball, executive director of Lone Pine Capital. Yongbao Middle School is the first stop of our three implementation sites. We hired a team of eye doctors from the nearest county to conduct a comprehensive school-wide eye examination in Yongbao. To my surprise, almost all of the students had never had their vision examined before. We broke down this process into several steps. First, one eye doctor used the traditional eye chart to test visual acuity.

If a child was found to have trouble reading from the chart, then we sent him or her to another doctor, who used a retinoscope to determine that particular child’s base prescription and offered a pair of experimental glasses (those with red frames) for students to try out. After students familiarized themselves with the experimental glasses, they then returned to the eye chart to retest visual acuity with newly acquired glasses to see whether their visual clarity had improved.

According to a report by the World Bank, about 10% of children in developing countries suffer from poor eyesight. However, we found that about 30% of our students have poor eyesight, almost all caused by refraction errors. Thankfully, all of the problems can be corrected with properly fitted eyeglasses. Soon, all the children we tested who needed glasses will receive a pair of eyeglasses for free. This is just the beginning. We also plan to unveil our educational component of the project distributing educational materials to the students to raise awareness about how to better protect their eyesight. After Yongbao, we will move our effort to two more schools–Luodang and Pingcun.

As my Fulbright experience in China comes to a close, there are several things I’ll take away from this experience. Many global challenges such as this one may seem insurmountable at times, but it is a solvable problem if we align our optimal resources and best efforts to tackle the problem together. My Fulbright experience greatly enhanced my understanding in the field of education required to prepare myself to become a future leader in tackling educational disparity in the world.

Comments»

1. Sudhakar Reddy - July 9, 2012

Hi George,

This is sudhakar reddy from Office of Campus Sustainability, UM. Away from my work at UM, I am involved in social work like this and feel good to reach poor and needy in India.

We do a lot of work to provide eye care to poor and needy in India. Please visit for details:

http://indoamericaneyecare.org/

We have estabilshed our organization in 2006 and to date we have screened 60,000 adults and children for eye care in villages and schools of Andhra Pradesh state in India.

Our results also suggest that 3-6% of kids has eye sight problem in remote places of India. I also agree with you that none of them have gone through testing or screening for their eye sight.

Sudhakar

2. Steven Chai - July 14, 2012

Hello George,

Now I know what you were trying to achieve in a somewhat small village. You did a great job! Vision is an truly essential sense!

As a student, I am focusing on my own acedemic goal. So I easily forget some difficulties other people have, especially people living in foreign countries.

I think it is really important to pay attention not only to what’s happening around us but also to what’s happening in other worlds.

Thanks to you, I broaden my perspective. I am grateful for that.

Steven


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