Welcome back to the JustSpecs blog, the home of all things philanthropy and fashion. If you didn’t catch last week’s blog, How We Go About Reducing Recidivism Through Glasses, then be sure to check it out. This week we have some words from our founder, Tanjit Dosanjh:
In late 2019, I had the pleasure of meeting with Light Without Borders, a charity that provides eyecare in a refugee camp in Lesvos. LWB wanted our support to provide prescription spectacles. We determined the best way for us to help them was to provide them with an autorefractor and train them to use it.
Fast Forward to last week, James Burton and I did just that. We travelled to the Isle of Lesvos and spent a day in the refugee camp. Bear in mind that this camp was built to hold 5,000 people, but there are now 20,000 people crammed into the space. Consequently, their tents made out of plastic sheets and wooden pallet bases have spilled over into the surrounding olive groves. An ever-growing heap of uncleared bin bags lined the road leading to the camp, a testament to the lack of infrastructure these people face. This is due to the fact that the local residents do not want this to become a permanent structure. It’s social situations like this that a refugee charity like LWB tries to assist with.
During the day-long journey from our place of stay to the camp, James and I developed a pathway to make it easier for the refugees to grasp our instructions. We wanted them to be able to filter out cases that were too complicated & we developed step by step instructions on how to do a basic refraction. On our first day, we realised this training plan was overwhelming for them. So, we had to dial it back to suit the people we were training up, spending the evening of the first day modifying our pathway and instructions. It was hard work but it was mentally stimulating. Working in this environment frees you up to be creative - we are trying to improve vision in the most efficient way possible. Both James and I have worked in prisons for some time, so we are used to strange working environments. But this was on another level.
By the time we left, James had done a great job training them on the Tonoref III. Operation of this machine consists basically of lining it up and pressing a button. I managed to help a 3 year old girl who had 5.00DC in each eye, which could have caused bilateral amblyopia. The day was a success. During the walk back we saw refugee art works, a school in the olive grove and children learning music. These are all ways NGOs are trying to help lift the spirits of the youngsters stuck in these camps. It's great to see people from so many places coming here to help. However, one can’t help but feel we are only scratching the surface; the work of the refugee charity is still much needed.
The Prison Opticians Trust is committed to continue glazing spectacles for refugees such as these. Although, they need optometrists to deal with more complex cases, such as the young girl I treated. Opticians from our organisation will give their time to help LWB and we hope to encourage more UK optometrists to visit Lesvos and offer their support. Spectacles are merely a symbol; what we really gave them was our time to show them we care.
Addressing the argument of refugees vs. economic migrants is tough for me. Some will argue these people are economic migrants and they should go back to where they came from. As the son of economic migrants, this is something I am sensitive to, as I feel I need to justify my presence in the UK when I hear comments like that.
Luz Carmona, founder of LWB, shows the migrants that some people really do care. Many NGOs, namely a refugee charity or two, have involvement in the camp and Luz is well connected to most of them. Luz provides an optician’s service but she is doing far more than that. She listens to their concerns and advocates for them in whichever way she can… Sometimes this pits her against the agencies running the camp but she has become a skilled operator in this camp and this inside knowledge is invaluable.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip to Lezvos. If you have any questions about how to get involved with any bodies mentioned in this post, then please do contact us.