x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Your old glasses can help a poor labourer to see again

An optician in Dubai is collecting old and unwanted glasses and frames that are then taken to Syria or Kenya and handed out to the poor as they come in for eye tests.

DUBAI // For the poorest of the poor in Syria and Kenya, Soroya Janmohamed is the best hope in sight. 

Mrs Janmohamed, a Dubai-based optometrist and the owner of Capital Opticians, has run annual eye camps in both countries for 15 years, testing vision and handing out free prescriptions to those who need them.

She recently returned from a successful tour of Syria, where she visited Salamiya, Hama and Masyaf, diagnosed 3,000 patients, and fitted 2,000 with prescription lenses.

Her team relies on donations from UAE residents of unwanted glasses and frames, both new and old. They were short by 1,000 frames this year, but hope to be able to ship to locally based specialists within the next two weeks.

“The eye care situation in parts of Syria is very underdeveloped and the places that I went to were very poor villages,” Mrs Janmohamed said. “We’ve seen an increase in patients and there are so many more that need attention. Unfortunately, we cannot see everybody, so we started with the most needy. The Syrian Red Crescent has also been very helpful.”

Devakhni Sureshkumar, a part-time optometrist in Dubai, collects glasses and frames to help Mrs Janmohamed. She transports donations herself to Chennai, India, and then travels on to poor villages to distribute them.

“We see anywhere between 500 and 1,000 patients. Some are unaware they even need glasses,” Mrs Sureshkumar said.

Despite her good work, she said she faces recurring problems with customs in India. “Many times we face difficulties in India and pay fees, even though the donations are not used for commercial reasons and we have the necessary papers to identify the goods as charity,” she said.

Mrs Sureshkumar often has to dip into cash donations initially put aside to buy lenses. Fees can cost anywhere up to the equivalent of Dh800. “We hope this issue will be resolved quickly,” she said. “In the meantime, we are also appealing to companies to donate lenses.”

The camps in India are usually conducted at a school over three days, They include a team of at least 10 locally based optometrists.

Juha Karjalainan, a Dubai resident from Finland, donated his old frames as soon as he heard about the eye camps and the need. “My wife and I donated a bunch of sunglasses and eyeglasses that we no longer need,” Mr Karjalainan said. “I really hope they are beneficial to people who need them and we will continue to donate in the future.”

Mrs Janmohamed said the reactions they receive from patients are priceless. “When someone cannot see and you give them glasses, they suddenly have a clear vision of the world and are left speechless. These are the best reactions I’ve seen,” she said.

Mrs Janmohamed hopes to team up with a local charity to offer free eye camps to Dubai labourers beginning next year.

“Labourers do need help. I don’t think they have eye tests, because it is not part of the medical for the visa. We could be preventing accidents from happening,” she said.

For more information, or to donate your old frames, visit Capital Opticians at Al Fattan Shopping Mall on JBR Walk in Dubai Marina, or call 04 399 5222.