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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.

Can you imagine a student not being able to see the blackboard? March 29, 2012

Posted by George Dong in China, Countries, Fulbright, Undergraduate.
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George Dong

George Dong

Many children in developing countries struggle to read the blackboard because of their poor eyesight. About 97% of child eye problems are caused by refraction errors, nearly all of which can be corrected with properly fitted eyeglasses. However, most children in rural China who have vision problems do not have eyeglasses. When students cannot do simple tasks such as taking notes from the blackboard or reading the textbook due to poor eyesight, poor vision prevents better learning outcomes. According to research conducted by the Rural Education Action Project, providing eyeglasses to a student with poor eyesight can improve his or her average grades by half a letter grade or more. Addressing vision problems is less costly and easier to implement than other broad interventions such as improving technology, teacher training, merit scholarships, vocational training, or reduced class size.

In the past months, two Teach For China teaching fellows and I worked on a grant proposal together. Thanks to the generosity of Lucy Ball (Executive Director of Lone Pine Capital), we just found out that we would receive 18,000 rmb (about $3,000) to provide eyeglasses to 250 students in three schools of Lincang County, Yunnan Province.