On the 5th December 2018 interviews took place for the final round of the student bursary scheme provided by the Irvine Aitchison Memorial Fund (IAMF). The two successful Optical students will join a Vision Aid Overseas (VAO) volunteer assignment in the summer of 2019.

This will see the conclusion of the award scheme as the charity expands its training programmes to build local capacity in-country.

Since 1997, Vision Aid Overseas has been working with the Irvine Aitchison Memorial Fund to provide second year university optical students with the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of people living with visual impairment across Africa by joining a two-week overseas outreach assignment with qualified Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians. This enables the students to gain new insights into their profession and to encounter first-hand pathologies. 


Established in 1966 in the memory of Irvine Aitchison, the IAMF has provided over 50 students with bursaries enabling them to gain experience supporting the delivery of eye care services and glasses across some of the world’s poorest communities. One of the students who has benefited from the bursary scheme is Niraj Vaitha, a student at City University. Mr Vaitha explained;

During my time in Zambia, I learnt a lot about different eye diseases/pathology which broadened my knowledge about ocular conditions that are rarely seen in the UK. The working environments were very different, which I enjoyed as this gave me a unique opportunity to adapt to adverse conditions. All of this has led to a great improvement in my clinical skills, making me well prepared for my final year of studies.

As Vision Aid Overseas continues to expand its training programmes to build local capacity in-country and more outreach is being done by those trained locally, the student bursary scheme provided by the IAMF will conclude in the summer of 2019.


Judith Trigg Professional Volunteer Coordinator at Vision Aid Overseas explained;

We are grateful for the support we have received from the IAMF over the last 20 years through the bursary scheme. The students come back with treasured memories, a stronger appreciation for the field of optometry and a better awareness of global sight loss

Although the student bursary has concluded the IAMF will continue supporting optical education by sponsoring registered Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians to become trained teachers/educators to support University Tutors, meeting a growing need due to a growth of UK University Optometry schools, and providing an additional career path for those interested in education.

Brian Keefe, one of the IAMF Trustees commented;

The 52 2nd year students who have been sponsored for VAO assignments since 1997 have all agreed that their experiences been life changing. Reading their end of bursary report have, on occasion, been simply tear-jeking, reporting on those who the team have been able to help and sadly those they could not. All successful candidates however have admitted that a two-week assignment can only scratch the surface of global sight loss and that ultimately local education and training will enable far more people to be reached and be long lasting.