By Tracey Peterson
December 10, 2018

Not even a few minutes into my Skype interview with our new VOSH/International  Executive Director Maria Arce- Moreira and it is hard to not be captivated by her personality, intelligence and charm.  Maria’s sense of positivity and passion yet remaining ever so humble are part of what makes her shine with strong character.

So many may ask who is this Maria Arce Moreira, the VOSH/International  new Executive Director?

International presence is nothing new for Maria. Born and raised in La Paz, Bolivia, she later spent some years working in Kenya, the Netherlands, and currently resides in the United Kingdom. With over 20 years of building a professional career in the non- profit or NGO world, progressively focusing on advocacy, policy, and management, fundraising and governance, Maria comes to VOSH/International bringing experience and knowledge. Growing up Maria always valued the importance of education so it  comes as no surprise when we learn Maria is fluent in 5 languages: Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, and Dutch.  Being able to communicate in multiple languages has allowed her to develop collaboration skills and learn the issues that unite us across the world. Her past has led her to work in several global networks dealing with different thematic areas like gender and integrated water resource management, rural transport, environment, human settlements, and associations of optometrists including the  World Council of Optometry.

After spending years traveling with her work, in 2014 Maria decided to bring more flexibility to her life and became a consultant. This enabled her to bring more international experience to the local context. Proudly she supports a couple of non-profits; one working on mental health issues among children and young people and another supporting independent living among the elderly. She also is a Trustee for an International NGO called Sense International that works for people with deaf blindness and their families through training, skills development and advocacy and advocacy for a local non-profit for the elderly.

Maria first learned about VOSH/International when she was working for the World Council of Optometry (WCO). Since VOSH is an affiliate member she had a couple of opportunities working with VOSH in support of advocating the profession in Mexico and Brazil. Later on she met former VOSH/International  President David McPhillips in Columbia during the 1st World Congress of Optometry. She was struck by the sincerity of his and VOSH efforts to collaborate with others. Keeping her interest in the global eye health sector alive after leaving WCO she decided to apply to one of the VOSH?International committees and attended the 2017 annual meeting in Chicago. Once again impressed by the level of commitment and interaction with its VOSH Corps committee, Maria decided to apply for the position of Executive Director.

Distinctively we can see Maria has a clear vision of VOSH/International. Next year she has plans to join one of the VOSH mission trips as her first direct experience to better help understand the work and impact done.

A thank you is extended to Maria for accepting this new role as Executive Director. We are all excited to see her passion continue as we welcome her to her new role and see the vision steer forward ahead within the VOSH organization.

“I am honored to join VOSH/International. I am reassured to know that all its committees and chapters are united in purpose and there is always a willingness to do the work that is needed. I am certain VOSH/International can be an international reference point and inform others from its significant field experience.”

Maria Arce-Moreira

V/I Executive Director

So what’s in store during the years ahead for VOSH and its 84 chapters globally as Maria becomes Executive Director of VOSH/International?

Here are a few objectives Maria shared that are most important to her:

  1. Consolidate the existing good work and operating structures. (It is a pleasure to know that the committees are active and responsive)
  2. Develop a new strategy that supports our ambitions, is well connected to and informed by current international debates of the sector, strengthens mutually beneficial partnerships and facilitates connections among all VOSH chapters (national and international) to share more knowledge and expertise
  3. Grow the VOSH/International profile as a global organization profiling our contribution to several aspects of the global eye health care debate. Retain significant presence at annual meeting

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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