This was a life changing experience for me, and I will be taking part in another Vision Aid Overseas trip again!

I heard about Vision Aid Overseas several times through work colleagues who used to take part in assignments and I was also keen to do so once I had qualified. I heard about the IAMF bursary through a university lecturer and this appealed to me. I worked in practice for many years, so I thought why not do something different and spend some of my summer abroad volunteering and watching the transformation of many people’s lives? Having previous experience of volunteering, ranging from looking after disabled children to the elderly, I thought this would be a good opportunity to put my 2 years of Optometry training and volunteering experiences together to successfully complete a VAO assignment.


I was nervous about what to expect as I had never done volunteering abroad. Throughout the first week of my assignment in Nekemte, Ethiopia, I saw several patients with many eye diseases which, in the UK, would only usually be seen in text books. I carried out a variety of tasks and every day was different, but my skills in Retinoscopy and Ophthalmoscopy have improved massively. We also taught the Ophthalmic Nurses how to carry out determine a prescription; retinoscopy and subjective refraction. I also observed several different types of operations being carried out on the eye which enabled me to see and compare the differences in theatre operation and techniques.


Many patients; mostly students and children travelled several hours just to be seen by us. Some of these people had never had their eyes tested before, some had ongoing problems.  I remember seeing a young boy who had been attacked and had very severe damage to his eye, it was very emotional and heart-breaking to see but these sorts of things are so common in Africa. There were many individuals who could not continue their daily tasks as they did not have access to a pair of glasses. For example, there was a 25 year old male teacher who couldn’t see and would have had to leave his job if he couldn’t get a pair of glasses to see properly. This is the reality!


The mid weekend break was good as we got to see Mount Entoto which is the highest peak overlooking the city. We also had time to visit the National Museum of Ethiopia and visit the famous Lucy. This gave us time to relax and tour Africa before continuing the hard work and changing people’s lives. 


The second week, at the Menelik Hospital in Adis Ababa, Ethiopia, was slightly different as we taught Ophthalmology students how to refract. This week included teaching and learning, a series of lectures delivered to the students and practical work. This was a great opportunity as I got to teach the students some of the things I knew which built my confidence with talking to a group.

The two weeks in Ethiopia were challenging but very rewarding at the same time, I feel as though I have seen a different life. I was very surprised at some of the things I saw in Ethiopia, and I definitely learnt a lot.  I will certainly recommend VAO to my peers and encourage them to take part in an assignment.


This was a life changing experience for me, and I will be taking part in another VAO trip again! I would like to thank my team who made it an enjoyable experience, Irvine Aitchison Memorial Fund (IAMF) for providing me this wonderful opportunity and VAO for helping me throughout the entire journey.