It was very rewarding teaching our clinical knowledge and skills, knowing that this will eventually provide a sustainable solution for the vast number of people with uncorrected vision.

During my studies at University, I had heard about Vision Aid Overseas (VAO) and instantly knew I would want to become a volunteer in the future. Fundraising was very fun and the most important part for me was raising as much awareness about VAO as possible to family, friends and the general public. I was thrilled to find out I was awarded with the Rajeshwar Lal bursary, which really did help me on my way to hit the target for my assignment to Sierra Leone.

It became clear as we arrived that Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries. Only 1 ophthalmologist and 2 optometrists work in the whole country. We spent the first week in Kenema and second week in Koidu. Each day we split the team up; half would work in the Vision Centre within the hospital, and the other half would go on Outreach. Within the Vision Centres, we were teaching two interns who are in training to become optical technicians.

 

It was very rewarding teaching our clinical knowledge and skills, knowing that this will eventually provide a sustainable solution for the vast number of people with uncorrected vision. They were so grateful for us teaching them different skills and techniques on refraction, ophthalmoscopy and glazing. During Outreach we travelled to various remote locations and schools. The testing conditions were probably my biggest challenge, where we were conducting sight tests with a language barrier and limited resources, in up to 32°C heat. Not having the luxuries of a computerised test chart, slit lamp and phoropter meant I hugely developed my clinical skills and also broadened my knowledge on rare ocular conditions.

 

I will never forget my first VAO assignment. I’ve learnt a lot, not only about Optometry but also about myself when out of my comfort zone.
Being one of the first VAO teams back in Sierra Leone, we helped restart the recovery process and I feel a great sense of achievement to have made a positive impact on this beautiful country. With its welcoming people who are so grateful to receive our help, it will always have a place in my heart. I would encourage all practitioners to become VAO volunteers and take part in this life-changing experience.

I would like to say a big thank you to my team members (Wendy Diddams, Colin Jones, Janet Green, Claire Allen and Jane Machin) for being an amazing team, all the VAO staff both in the UK and in Sierra Leone for looking after us and making our trip a success, and lastly to the Gupta family for assisting me with the Rajeshwar Lal Bursary donation.