Becoming a better volunteer, making your efforts more meaningful

For the first 18 years of my optometry career I regularly volunteered with my local VOSH chapter both locally and internationally.  I felt good about my efforts, but my efforts were myopic.  As I joined the VOSH/International Board I became aware of the bigger picture, there was much more involved than just an eye exam and providing a pair of glasses to an individual in need.  The bigger picture includes many organizations involved in efforts to raise awareness of and generate support for the need for eyecare and access to eyecare as a human right.  There are several efforts going on, but there is still a great need to develop and support optometry globally, develop human resources in eyecare, advocate for understanding the need for eye care and access to eyecare.

Things you can do to make your volunteerism more effective:

  • Understand local community you will be working in
    • What is the need?
    • How can you really provide help?
  • Work with local eyecare
    • Enhance local capacity
  • Skills transfer between optometrist and student optometrist from visiting team and from local eyecare team
  • Provide equipment to local optometry
    • For local vision screenings
    • Mobile eye clinics
  • Education and Prevention to local people about their eyes
    • Sun protection, control of diabetes
    • Public awareness
  • Collect Data on patients served
    • This is used for advocacy for access to care

A good way to gain more understanding is to become a Fellow of VOSH/International or a Student Fellow of VOSH/International.  The Fellowship program is designed to encourage the acquisition of knowledge, skills and experience necessary to meet the global challenge of eliminating preventable blindness.  The fellowship process will help you to understand the global status of optometry and global challenges for accessing eyecare.  It will help you to understand cultural considerations, philosophical constructs underlying volunteer, charity, and humanitarian programs.  You can read more about it here:

VOSH Fellowship

STUDENT VOSH Fellowship

Tracy Matchinski, OD, FAAO, FVI

VOSH/International President

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Updated COVID-19 and VOSH Humanitarian Clinics Advice

Due to an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 infections, a new variant that is more contagious, and these being early days in the vaccination distribution, VOSH/International DOES NOT recommend that chapters participate in domestic or international eye and vision clinics at this time.

We reiterate that at a time when the coronavirus continues to spread quickly in many parts of the world and vaccinations are not yet available to local populations, the risk of close contact with patients in a crowded outpatient environment remains high.

If a VOSH Chapter or VOSH volunteer chooses to hold a clinic against our best guidance, this is done at your own risk, by your own decision and should be in line with current local/national government rules.  VOSH/International would like to reiterate that safety for VOSH volunteers and our patients is of utmost importance and central to any decision-making process.

We have published our updated clinic guidelines with best practices to be observed in this new context.  You can download VOSH/International clinic guidelines here

Also please keep checking the following sites with official and most recent updates:

World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

US CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/when-to-delay-travel.html

US Government Travel Advise: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html

Thank you for your patience in these unprecedented times, hard work and dedication to improving vision and eye health throughout the world.

John Daniel Twelker, OD, PhD, FAAO, FVI

President, VOSH/International

January 2021