Published in Non-Clinical
Luxottica and OneSight Tanzania Give Gift of Sight to 3,528 People
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Dr. Mahsa Shekari, O.D. wasn’t sure what to expect from her trip to Africa. An active volunteer in her own community, she was looking forward to using her optometry skills during her first overseas service trip with Luxottica OneSight Tanzania. She anticipated that the trip would be challenging, yet rewarding.
But, she admits, her biggest fear was being eaten alive by mosquitos in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city and the location of the vision clinic. She laughingly recalls, “I was prepared with all sorts of repellants!”
Sarah Gleason, an optometry student at SUNY College of Optometry, was also a seasoned volunteer.
She became involved in volunteer work as a child, and continued throughout the years. Gleason was initially exposed to international mission work as a first year optometry student and, ever since then, she has jumped at every opportunity to participate in similar initiatives. “When I learned about the opportunity to travel to Tanzania with OneSight and Luxottica, I applied without hesitation,” she explains.
Another optometry student, Charlotte Love, of Michigan College of Optometry, decided to sign up for OneSight because she, too, had a long history of mission work.
She had already been on 3 mission trips during her undergrad years, and was thrilled by the chance to join the Luxottica-sponsored event on a scholarship, as she could not have otherwise afforded the trip on a student budget. Around 450 students applied, and 25 were selected. Love was chosen as an alternate on the trip, replacing an applicant who later dropped out, which she reveals made her feel especially blessed and eager to participate.
As optometry students, both Gleason and Love participated in Vision Empowers, a partnership between OneSight, Luxottica, and the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA).
For Sarah Gleason, learning what was involved with OneSight was simple. “This trip was extensively advertised at my school by our AOSA Trustee,” she explains, noting that she was able to find plenty of information about the trip on various social media platforms.
The application process was simple, but did involve some work. “We were required to submit an application, indicating involvement and leadership roles, as well as a short essay about our experiences with community service.”
As the date of departure grew closer, Gleason became more and more excited. She notes that any questions and concerns that participants had were promptly addressed during numerous conference calls, email threads, and conversations on social media.
“This constant communication and accessibility to the group resulted in the feeling that we were already a team before we met, allowing for a seamless transition once we arrived,” adds Gleason.
“They had everything!” she exclaims, noting that the trip was characterized by organization and preparation, providing a surprisingly smooth, seamless experience.
While Shekari had always been interested in an overseas eyecare volunteer trip, she chose to go through Luxottica because she felt confident that she would have a positive experience. Running her two Target Optical sublease locations has shown her that Luxottica prioritizes the wellbeing of its employees.
Much like her experiences in her day-to-day operations at work as an optometrist, signing up for OneSight was simple and straightforward. Enrolling, she said, was “as easy as a click of a button.”
“Frankly, it would have taken much more effort on my part to seek out an organization that took part in service missions, and engage them to allow me to participate,” Dr. Shekari explains.
While Love, a more seasoned international mission trip volunteer, was bound to have fewer pre-trip jitters than a normal participant, even she was pleasantly surprised by the organization and overall professionalism of the OneSight trip. She recalls, “Luxottica was by far the most organized travel group I have ever worked with. Passports, visas, tickets, and hotel bookings were all very well organized, and there were conference calls [before the trip] so we had a chance to ask questions.”
Dr. Sarah Krietlow, O.D. is the owner of a Pearle Vision in Chaska, MN. Like Dr. Shekari, she was invited to join the Luxottica sponsored trip, and jumped at the opportunity. She had been interested in the trip for ages, and was thrilled by the opportunity to participate.
While she had never traveled abroad for any volunteer initiatives, Dr. Krietlow reveals that she was not at all worried. “I was very excited and open to new experiences,” she explains. She notes that she was particularly enthusiastic that OneSight provided optometrists an opportunity to truly give back and help others, while also enabling them to connect to similar like-minded eyecare and medical professionals.
Doctors and O.D. students were assigned to various stations, where they would begin their shifts by 8 AM. The doctors would assist the students as needed, answering any questions about eyecare that arose.
Gleason points out that some inconsistencies are to be expected in Tanzania. While the bus departed promptly at 7:30 A.M. each morning to travel to the clinic, the ride could take anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, depending on traffic and weather conditions.
Love recalls being stuck in a thunderstorm, causing the ten minute bus ride to take an hour and a half. As the team sat in the bus, they peered out the window at people walking barefoot through the mud, as if it were just a normal day.
Upon arrival at the clinic each morning, the group would meet briefly as a team to go over assignments and goals for the day. Patients were as young as 4 and as old as 97, and assignments ranged from taking VAs and checking angles to performing DFEs and refractions.
Volunteers also had the opportunity to work in the lab, creating and dispensing glasses to fit the individual need of each patient, with no compromise in prescription.
She notes, “Although we were given a formal assignment each day, there was great flexibility allowed, ensuring a meaningful clinical experience each day.”
Charlotte Love was particularly impressed by the Luxottica mobile optical lab. She recalls using four machines to cut lenses, as well as thousands of frame options so that patients could pick a style that felt fashionable and special to them.
Once the patient had selected the frame of his/her choice, the eyecare volunteer team would cut stock lenses in that patient’s prescription, creating the shape needed to adequately fit the lenses.
Love added that this was unique to the Luxottica OneSight trip; on previous trips, patients were provided with donation glasses that were often a close match, but not ideal.
When asked what impressed Love the most about the trip, she answers, “The fact that Luxxotica invested in the community and brought those huge machines and vast inventory, so patients would get a 100% match to their true prescription.”
This said, although Luxottica affords an impressive availability of resources, clinicians on volunteer trips are inherently limited in what they can offer patients.
For this reason, during any eyecare mission trip, it is always of utmost importance to work together with each and every patient, in order to determine what the most pressing concern is. Depending on the patient, that concern could be refractive error, sun protection, or even simply taking a few extra minutes to offer an explanation for a permanent loss in vision.
In many cases, finally giving someone answers, after years of uncertainty, is exactly what that patient needs the most.
Naturally, she was concerned about her ability to work alongside third and fourth year students, not to mention seasoned optometrists.
But she was shocked by how well everything went.
“Thankfully,” Love says, “everyone on the trip was so assuring and relaxed; they made me feel confident in the skills I have.” She recalls that the entire Luxottica team was very welcoming and happy to explain any areas where Love felt unsure.
She was touched that many doctors would pull her aside to show her diseases and special findings, which she recognizes is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “I saw more disease in the week-long clinic than I probably will throughout the rest of my formal education,” she adds, noting that the trip improved her efficiency and confidence with procedural skills, especially direct ophthalmoscopy.
She is still astonished and impressed by the fact that her team provided care to over 3500 patients during a single a week-long trip.
Gleason notes that the team met at the end of each day, to discuss everyone’s achievement, as well as share cases and stories about patient encounters. And these team gatherings were far from all business.
Dr. Shekari recalls that on some days, the Luxottica team would take a dip in the pool at night before dinner, adding that one of her favorite parts of each day was connecting with the rest of the eyecare team. “We would all sit, talk, and get to know each other, sharing experiences, and forming long-lasting friendships,” she explains.
The initiative was truly a team effort. Dr. Shekari was particularly impressed by the dedication and compassion demonstrated by the medical students who volunteered to translate for the Luxottica team. “Those kids were absolutely amazing,” she gushes. “They treated all the patients with such compassion!”
One of her personal favorites was an aspiring nurse named Solieman, who she anticipates will become an amazing clinician one day.
Gleason points out that patients' needs in Tanzania will often deviate from the ones that ODs and students are used to encountering in American clinics. She quickly realized that she had to leave behind any preconceived notions, and fully engage in the care of each and every individual.
She recalls, “At the beginning of the clinic, we were told that ‘nothing is more important than the patient sitting in front of you.’” Once she began to see patients, she realized just how poignant that advice really is. “I will take this mantra with me, and apply it to all aspects of patient care,” she adds.
Love was also forever changed by her experiences in Tanzania.
By seeing the living conditions and poor health of the population they treated, it transformed her perspective on any of her own problems regarding her car, student loans, or career.
Nearly 70% of Tanzanians live below the poverty line, and many residents lack access to basic health care and running water.
Love muses, “Our daily problems are trivial compared to theirs. They are focused on surviving: finding their next meal, clean water, and clothing for their child. They worry about a flood that could wash out their homes.” Love took home a renewed outlook life; she plans to always be thankful for what she has, rather than focusing on the small things. And she will always be grateful for her health.
“Prior to the trip, I was focused mostly on the clinical knowledge I would gain and the satisfaction I would feel in helping this population,” Gleason explains.
She admits that she hadn’t even scratched the surface of what she could experience through OneSight, adding, ”I had not fully considered the opportunities I would have to meet fellow O.D. students from various schools, network with doctors practicing across the country, engage in interprofessional care with the medical students of IMTU, and meet other colleagues involved in different aspects of eye care.”
“Being able to share this experience with this team of highly motivated and caring individuals brought this experience to a level I did not anticipate and am so grateful for,” Gleason says.
She would eagerly participate in this type of trip again, and remarks, “This trip only intensified the passion that I have for mission work. I plan to remain engaged and involved with this type of work for the entirety of my career as an OD.”
The teamwork and togetherness of the trip had a lasting impact on Love, as well. “I returned home more confident in my skills and more passionate about my career choice,” she explains, adding that she has set an intention to participate in at least one community and one global outreach event for every year that she is a doctor.
Dr. Krietlow shares Love’s sentiment. She is eternally grateful for her experience in Tanzania, remarking, “I had the opportunity to participate in this trip because of my affiliation with Lux as a Pearle OD. Without Lux, I wouldn’t have had this chance.” She adds that she would return to another Luxottica sponsored trip in a heartbeat, noting that South America is next on her list.
For anyone on the fence about attending, Dr. Krietlow feels strongly that it’s worth taking the plunge. “Until one experiences something like this personally, one cannot imagine the impact one can make. I highly recommend for everyone to experience something like this. I am more aware and humbled by this experience.”
As for Dr. Shekari, her insect repellant did the trick. Instead of taking itchy mosquito bites back home to her Target Optical Subleases in New Jersey, she returned with a renewed perspective on her role as an optometrist, and even more appreciation for her workplace.
She says, “I've always known that Luxottica goes on trips like these, and I definitely think that part of the reason that I enjoy working with them is that I know they [create] so much good in the world,” adding, “it gives me a sense of pride knowing I work with such a company.”