To see or not to see, that was their vision, and so it came about that thousands of people in Chiang Mai, many from poor hilltribe villages, have now received glasses to improve their sight.
Thepparat Luangsuwan, president of the Give the Gift of Sight Foundation, fits a pair of glasses onto a clearly delighted old woman at the mobile eye clinic. PHOTOS BY TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD
In mid to late May, a team of volunteers and doctors from around the world held a charitable clinic in the province to provide free eye care and eyewear to local residents.
The clinic was a collaboration between the US-based OneSight Foundation and the Give the Gift of Sight Foundation of Thailand.
Several thousand people, including many from hilltribes living on distant mountain tops, came from far and wide to receive free eye examinations and spectacles from the clinic held in the compound of the administrative office of Hot district.
At 80, one patient, Pan Tuitamphan, thought he'd never see the faces of his grandchildren again. Today, he is thrilled to see more clearly through new glasses provided by the charitable programme.
Mr Pan had cataract surgery for his left eye 15 years ago at Suan Dok hospital in Chiang Mai's Muang district and had more surgery to remove a cataract in his right eye five years later.
A farmer takes a cool look at life through donated sunglasses to help him as he works his fields in bright sunshine.
But then he suffered blurred vision because of his advanced age so he decided to seek help from the clinic where he had his eyes examined and was given a new pair of prescription glasses.
"I haven't seen the faces of my grandchildren for a long time. Today, I can see their faces more clearly," Mr Pan said.
Daeng Inkaew, 70, left home early in the morning for the clinic, excited and full of anticipation at what she would receive from the vision care programme.
After the eye check, Mrs Daeng was delighted to get a new pair of prescription glasses to replace the "temporary" cheap, low-quality glasses she bought from a market.
Boonpad Butrsawan, 30, lives 70 kilometres away in a village on a mountain top in the district.
It took two hours for him to travel to the clinic to receive the eye examination.
"I couldn't see clearly. I became dizzy whenever I drove. It may have been linked with my vision," he said.
He was given a recycled pair of sunglasses to protect his eyes from the glaring light when he worked in the fields.
The clinic was held by a team of volunteers and doctors from OneSight Foundation from 11 countries - the United States, Britain, China, India, Greece, Italy, Chile, Switzerland, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and Trinidad.
OneSight is a global foundation and a charitable arm of US-based eyewear manufacturer and distributor Luxottica Group.
OneSight believes clear vision is a basic right, not a luxury. The foundation is committed to helping underprivileged people to see more clearly through clinics, research and education programmes.
A hilltribe woman sports a pair of fashion eyewear donated and distributed to villagers at the clinic.
For more than 20 years, OneSight has provided free eye health checks and eyewear to millions of people around the world.
Each year, Onesight conducts clinics in developing countries where doctors and trained volunteers provide free eye exams and recycled eyewear to thousands of people in need.
This year, OneSight and the Give the Gift of Sight Foundation of Thailand brought 50,000 pairs of glasses and 13,000 pairs of sunglasses to be provided to local residents.
More than 1,000 patients turned up at the clinic each day. Most of them were too poor to afford eye care or eyewear.
Thepparat Luangsuwan, president of the Give the Gift of Sight Foundation, said the eye charity has encouraged people around the world to donate their used or unwanted glasses for those in need.
The eye care charity programme began in Thailand 13 years ago after members of local Lions Clubs travelled to the US and realised the benefits of the programme and introduced it to the country.
Foundation staff will be sent to survey provinces where poor people have vision problems before contacting the network of OneSight foreign volunteers to come to Thailand for the charity mission. "They not only come to do volunteer work but also learn the life and local culture," Mr Thepparat said.
He said the programme has given almost 500,000 pairs of glasses to Thais in many parts of the country.
Some who suffer serious visual impairment are also referred to eye specialists for surgery.
"We [the foundation] pay the surgery bills in cases that require continued treatment," Mr Thepparat said. "Helping them to see is giving them a new life."
He said many foreign volunteers have made new Thai friends, been impressed with Thai culture and also promised to come back.
After finishing their charity mission, the volunteers then had the chance to travel and explore Thai culture for three to four days.
Before leaving the country, they held an auction in which they sold personal belongings to raise funds for local communities.
Mr Thepparat said the three southernmost provinces will be the charity programme's next target.
Mr Thepparat said school children in the district were given a chance to train with the foreign volunteers.
Juthanant Juruen, a Lua hilltribe girl, was among 100 pupils from the district school who helped the volunteers handle patients. She said she was taught basic English words relating to vision care.
Steve Stockton, head of the volunteer team, said he was impressed with the warm hospitality and welcome from Thai people during their visit.
He also appreciated the help and cooperation of agencies that contributed to the scheme's success.
A villager appears sheepish as she tries on a pair of sunglasses after having her sight tested.
A student from a local school assists an elderly woman through the basic steps for testing her sight.
A doctor closely examines the eyes of a woman at the mobile clinic. Some of the elderly residents suffer from cataracts.
Volunteers from the US-based OneSight Foundation and the Give the Gift of Sight Foundation of Thailand operate an eye examination machine.
About the author
- Writer: Nauvarat Suksamran