WITH a mosquito infestation hovering over the Ganges and in 35 degree heat, a team from Specsavers Limerick worked 18 hour days for ten days in November, treating well over a thousand eye patients in the Indian metropolis of Kolkata.
Helping the poorest of the poor, Specsavers Limerick store director Sinead Clohessy and optician Shannon Power were among the Specsavers Ireland team of ten volunteers, linking in with The Hope Eye Foundation Clinic and its fleet of ambulances to cover as much ground as possible.
Fundraising in Limerick had raised €75,000 for The Hope Foundation this year alone and the mission was the second of a three-year commitment that Sinead has made to the eye clinic.
“We came on board last year with The Hope Foundation and set out a team to investigate the challenges, to see what we could to to help. Our work there is about eradication, fighting blindness,” Sinead explained.
Along with Specsavers ambassador, television presenter Darren Kennedy, Specsavers Limerick worked with three ophthalmists and three dispensing assistants who gave eye checks to 1,300 people, many of whom had never had any eye care. At least a thousand pairs of glasses were dispensed and patients presenting with more severe problems were referred to the The Hope Foundation Eye Clinic.
“The Hope Foundation’s set up is amazing and every day we worked to very tight schedules, running three to four clinics by day and another two to three by night,” Sinead told the Limerick Post.
“At night we went out under bridges, into the red light district, into the slums. The poverty is shocking – it is still in my mind, the absolute extremity of it. The heartbreak is we could not see to everyone.
“In the villages, people walked for hours to the clinics and at any one time we could have had a queue of 300.”
Night work in Kollkata seems to have been most taxing in temperatures of up to 40 degrees with the plague of mosquitoes fed by moisture from the mighty Ganges. One scene shook Sinead in particular, a mother in the red light district with three daughters gathered around her. Sex with the children was for sale at $2.
This Limerick woman’s respect for The Hope Foundation is immense and is she proud that their hospital is well funded by Limerick people. (Special mention to Alex Findlater & Co who underwrote her own coffee morning that raised €13,000).
Firmly committed to a return visit 2019, Sinead’s focus is clear. “What Kolkata and the Third World needs are clean water and education.”
And there is Hope.
“I saw The Hope Foundation’s succession planning out there and it is absolutely brilliant. They have pioneer out-group leaders working with the clinics who themselves came from the slums,” she explained.
And it is that glimpse into the future that the Specsavers team is anxious to retain as the real focus of their Indian odyssey and their commitment to fighting blindness in this subcontinent.