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

VOSH/International recently consulted its US and International Chapters about the feasibility and timing to restart our humanitarian clinics. While the vaccination process continues with different levels of success depending on availability and acceptance, it is evident that vaccine inequity and the availability and reliability of data in several countries are issues we need to consider.

Even if already vaccinated, our chapters are still concerned about the wellbeing of our volunteers and patients.  Some chapters, are organizing clinics locally where they are better able to comply with the existing safety requirements and respective state/country regulations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is being experienced quite differently depending on state, region, country, vaccine availability, vaccine acceptance, and the spread of SARS-COV-2 variants. Most VOSH chapters are not holding clinics or traveling internationally in 2021.

Thus, VOSH/International is slightly moderating its overall guidance against clinics and travel issued in late March 2020 and renewed in January 2021. This will be reviewed and communicated on a quarterly basis.

If a VOSH Chapter choses to hold a clinic or travel internationally, we highly recommend that the chapter performs due diligence to comply fully with the requirements established by the visited country, ensures all VOSH volunteers are aware of and follow strict safety guidelines and all existing protocols and regulations of the country, and keeps the principle of “do no harm” embedded in all its decision making. As always, the wellbeing and 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. VOSH chapters in specific countries are using protocols that need to be considered as well. You can download VOSH/International clinic guidelines here.

*VOSH/International is formed by autonomous US and international chapters that are fully and only responsible for their activities, fundraising and decision-making.  VOSH/International can only provide recommendations based on our best knowledge and information at the time.

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 hard work and dedication to improving vision and eye health throughout the world.

John Daniel Twelker, OD, PhD, FAAO, FVI

President, VOSH/International

July 2021