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Greater Victoria optometrist mission brings eye care to 800 Kenyans

Glasses brought sight to hundreds as the eye doctors cared for the young and old

Nearly 800 Kenyans were provided with glasses and eye care thanks to five Greater Victoria optometrists and their families who went on a bustling seven-day humanitarian mission in January.

In rural Kenya’s Narok County and the Amboseli area, the group set up five pop-up clinics in local hospitals, health units and schools during the first week of 2024. Along with volunteers and translators, the eye doctors drove hours each day to provide care at the remote sites.

Optometrist Samantha Bourdeau recalled how they were not alone in making the long journey.

“Our first patient at the clinic was an 87-year-old woman with AIDS who walked eight kilometres one way to receive care at the clinic. She left with reading glasses and she was so happy,” Bourdeau said.

The trip was a part of Canadian Vision Care, an organization that combats the lack of access to basic eye care in lower-income countries by running missions all over Africa and beyond.

The Greater Victoria group was also able to make glasses for hundreds of patients thanks to a large donation of frames from designer JF Frey.

Bourdeau said one impactful moment was when they were able to provide a seven-year-old boy, who was about to be kicked out of school because he couldn’t see, with his first pair of glasses. That was one case of many, as there were hundreds of people waiting to be seen each day, almost all with no previous access to eye care.

“The patients were very patient and gracious, never complaining about waiting and just so thankful to be seen, and receive glasses for the first time,” Bourdeau said.

Each day, the mission group would take on the arduous task of setting up a new location, often having to adapt to a lack of chairs, running water and translators. The language barrier was especially difficult as the optometrists worked at six or seven different stations and a translator was needed at almost every step of the way.

“We would try to learn basic phrases to get by when they weren’t around, but often the different villages would have different dialects – either Swahili or Maasai – so there was a lot to remember!” Bourdeau said.

But it wasn’t something they hadn’t dealt with before – all of the optometrists on the trip had done missions in the past as students. However, January’s trip was a little different because it was with their kids. The group had always entertained the idea of going again when the kids were older.

“We feel it is important to use our skills to give back to those who are less fortunate, and to expose our children to the importance of humanitarian work,” Bourdeau said.

Their kids, ranging in ages from 11 to 15, helped out during the mission with testing acuity, doing eye drops and other tasks.

“It was very heartwarming to see our kids step up to the task and volunteer at the mission.”

Those interested in supporting initiatives like the mission can donate to Canadian Vision Care or donate old glasses to their optometrist’s office.

The January trip was partially funded through donations and by the five optometrists: Bourdeau (Cadboro Bay Optometry and Ray Dahl Optical and Optometrists), Charles Simons (Saanich Optometry), Aisha Cheng and Mark Bourdeau (Peninsula Lifetime Eyecare), and Scott Williams (Victoria Eye).

READ MORE: Vancouver Islander to detail his humanitarian travels to Ukraine amid war

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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