The greatest struggle I experienced in Ethiopia was seeing patients who have suffered for a long time without glasses.

After my first year of University and hearing about Vision Aid Overseas (VAO) I knew in the future I would volunteer with VAO. Working in practice I find it upsetting that there is a huge population of people in the world who do not receive basic eye care and because of this are unable to work, which creates a cycle of poverty. So when my Clinical skills lecturer emailed my year with a poster advertising a chance to win an IAMF bursary, I wasted no time in applying.

We spent our first week in Nekemte in Ethiopia, which is a small rural town 7 hours away from the capital city Addis Ababa. Whilst being in Nekemte I was greatly surprised on how hands on I was allowed to be. I participated in a variety of tasks such as conducting eye tests alongside qualified optometrists and even assisting in eye surgery. I was able to broaden my knowledge about eye diseases, as I was able to see ocular conditions that are rarely seen in the UK. My clinical skills became stronger as the conditions we worked in were not ideal.

I am so grateful for all that I have learnt and I will forever be amazed by how I have vastly changed someone’s life.  For example dispensing an 8-year-old aphakic boy with a pair of glasses, this memory holds a special place in my heart as this child can now go to school for the first time.

The second week in Ethiopia we spent in Addis Ababa teaching Ophthalmology students how to refract. It was a beautiful experience being able to share my refraction knowledge with these students. All the students were so grateful for us teaching them. One student even said how her ‘fare’ of refraction is now gone because of us. We were based in Menelik hospital and the hospital is an eye hospital and it was great to be there as myself and the other students were able to shadow Ophthalmogists and practice our slit lamp skills. We also learnt how to spot ocular abnormalities and how to diagnose a patient with an eye disease. It was fascinating to see how quickly these Ophthalmologists work how many patients they see.

The greatest struggle I experienced in Ethiopia was seeing patients who have suffered for a long time without glasses. It was heart rendering to see, that people lived in poverty because they could not work, as they did not have glasses. However the sense of fulfilment once prescribing these patients with glasses is indescribable and for that reason alone is why I would continue to volunteer and support the work of VAO.

This adventurous experience has improved my skills and my confidence tremendously. I did not only learn a lot about Optometry but I learnt a lot about myself.

I would like to take this time to say a huge thank you to my team (Marty Leer, Chris Longley, Usmaan Saleem and Amy Gumbrall) for being the best team anyone could ask for.  I would also like to say thank you to all the Vision Aid Overseas staff at home that made our trip a success and to the IAMF for allowing me to have this life- changing experience.