Like most optometrists in Australia, we have supported Optometry Giving Sight ever since Brien Holden pointed out the ridiculous problem of worldwide preventable blindness. We thought this is a good charity to support and refractive correction is just what we do. It was so natural.
After raising money and speaking passionately about Optometry Giving Sight for almost 10 years, Vicki (my wife) and I were keen to actually visit an Optometry Giving Sight funded project – and what a wonderful experience it was.
Vietnam has just one School of Optometry, founded by the Brien Holden Vision Institute and supported by Optometry Giving Sight. It’s in Ho Chi Minh City at the University of Medicine Pham Ngoc Thac. It was interesting to learn that this was established with approvals by Vietnamese government ministries, so the course is official and recognised, with most students receiving government scholarships that enable them to attend.
The course is 4 years and covers all optometry subjects. Obviously refraction is included, but there is so much more – including learning disabilities and detection of pathology for example.
We visited the School of Optometry for the official start of the new academic year, which is in October. It was quite emotional because of the enthusiasm of the students, as well as being reminded that it was the same event just 1 year ago when Brien Holden inaugurated this course. There are now 16 second year students and 30 new first year students.
While the school is supported by many groups, including the governments of Vietnam and Australia, Brien Holden Vision Institute and Optometry Giving Sight, readers will be interested to know that the students have their own skin in this game too. Annual course fees are $200 per student (after the scholarship payments) and that is almost a month of average income for their families.
To describe the students as inspiring is an understatement. We felt so proud that these enthusiastic young people are joining our profession as colleagues.
They will be helping to build the profession of optometry from scratch in Vietnam; an awesome story of achievement. Last year there were 3 optometrists for a population of 90 million. This year there are 9, including some who have returned to their country of birth. In a few years there will be over 100.
As you would expect, the staff are outstanding people, with amazing commitment to the project. The other speakers for official start of the academic year were Associate Professor Dieu (Vice-Rector of the University), Ms Ly (Country Representative for Brien Holden Vision Institute), Mr Long (Head of Optometry Sub-department), Miss Tuong (Class Leader, Year 2) and Jessie Huang (Volunteer Lecturer from Australia). It’s worth highlighting that this Optometry Giving Sight project successfully empowers local people to train other local people, who will then go on to spending the rest of their lives correcting preventable blindness. That is a truly wonderful result; and as I said to the students “then you can also become a supporter of optometry’s own charity, Optometry Giving Sight”.
Vicki and I were so impressed with what is being achieved here. It was an uplifting experience, full of hope and goodwill. It is one thing to believe in the work being supported by Optometry Giving Sight, but it's a wonderful confirmation to see it working first hand. To all of you who contribute in any way, well done!