She Travels with 500 Pair of Eyeglasses

Guelph student Lauren Wallace joins Unite for Sight medical project in Ghana

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Lauren Wallace

Lauren Wallace

At just 21, Lauren Wallace has already built schools in Kenya with Free the Children and climbed Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money to support an HIV/AIDS clinic in Lesotho. This summer, she’ll be taking her volunteerism to new heights by bringing the gift of sight to hundreds of people in Ghana.

Wallace, who is entering her fourth year of an arts and sciences degree in September, will be in Ghana from June 20 to July 30 with Unite for Sight, a non-profit organization that empowers communities worldwide to improve eye health and eliminate preventable blindness.

“Preventable blindness is a huge issue in Africa that people here don’t often think about,” says Wallace. “If you’re blind, you can’t necessarily go to school or get a job. In addition, family members have to provide constant care and attention to blind relatives, which makes education and employment a challenge for them as well.”

During the six-week placement, Wallace will be distributing eyeglasses and medicine throughout the northern part of Ghana and referring people for free cataract surgery at the Unite for Sight clinic. She says that without the service, many local people living with cataracts would undergo “couching,” a rudimentary cataract removal method that has roots dating back some 2,500 years.

“Couching involves dislodging the lens from the eye using a blunt instrument. It’s a traditional — and risky — procedure that can lead to serious infection and blindness.”

Wallace will also be taking a course in eye pathology, completing a certificate in global health program delivery and conducting field research on couching that will help the clinic develop educational materials to promote itself to the community.

“I’m hoping to help determine the contributing factors that cause people to choose couching as a remedy for cataracts rather than coming to the clinic,” she says. “Is it a literacy issue? Do they believe that it’s too far away for them to travel? Are there cultural issues at play, or economic concerns?”

To prepare for the trip, Wallace secured 500 pairs of donated eyeglasses from the Lion’s Club of Canada and raised money for the clinic. For more information, email at lwallace@uoguelph.ca or visit www.uniteforsight.org.