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The team outside Warakapola Vision Centre, Sri Lanka, L-R, back row, Canadian optometrist Tannis from Calgary, Sydney optometrist Marilyn Tucker, health worker Richard Main from Perth and guide Joshua Wood. Middle, Queensland optometrist Nicky Carr and American optometrist Diane from Virginia. Front, sitting, Perth optometrist Robyn Main

By Helen Carter

Journalist

Perth optometrist Robyn Main was caught up in the pandemonium of returning to Australia amid the coronavirus pandemic after she had been volunteering on an eye care aid trip to Sri Lanka.

Robyn and her husband Richard made it safely home after taking part in Trek for sight 20/20 – the inaugural Brien Holden Vision Institute outreach trip to Sri Lanka to provide eye care. She was able to attend WAVE Virtual lectures online while self-isolating for 14 days when she returned home.

‘We got one of the last flights out of Sri Lanka. It was pandemonium as so many flights were being cancelled and Sri Lanka was in lockdown under military curfew – think army on the streets patrolling with machine guns,’ Robyn told Optometry Australia.

‘Just on the 10-kilometre drive to the airport, our driver was stopped twice and had to show a “permission slip” gained from police prior to the drive. Sri Lanka was very low risk – there was hand wash and sanitiser everywhere – but basically taking the military approach of lock down before any lives were lost.

‘We had to fly to Perth via Dubai at a large extra expense as our Singapore Airlines flight was cancelled twice, emailing us to say “sorry for the inconvenience” one day before we were due to fly out with them. The Trek for Sight organisers worked overtime to get us on a flight and we are very thankful for that group’s organisational abilities.

‘Apart from the last few days under curfew, we had a wonderful time. Even the curfew was spent in an okay hotel by the beach (patrolled by the army though,) sipping from coconuts by the pool so it wasn’t too arduous!’

Robyn hopes that, post pandemic, more optometrists will sign up for the next trek.

Sri Lankans having eye examinations with Robyn Main

A team of five optometrists including Robyn, Marilyn Tucker from Eastgardens, Sydney and Nicky Carr from Mt Tambourine, Queensland, plus one optometrist each from Canada and the US, and two Australian support people including Robyn’s husband attended the program. It represented the culmination of 12 months of fund-raising by team members and their communities. More than $27,000 was gifted to the BHVI Vision Centre in Sri Lanka.

‘We had an excellent time doing aid work there with Optometry Giving Sight,’ Robyn said. ‘We went to a rural area and tested 110 people that day. Many had never had an eye examination and we were able to dispense specs to many. A lot had cataracts as they were involved in the tea plantation industry or farming and needed referral for cataract surgery. A total of 187 services were performed by the team in that one day.

‘The community welcomed us with traditional dancing, with children decking us with floral leis, feeding us with local delicacies and presenting us with plaques displaying their thanks.’

The trekking component required team members to complete five treks of varying difficulty.

‘The net effect was to enhance team bonding and provide an appreciation of the beauty of the people and landscape of Sri Lanka,’ Robyn said. ‘This has proved to be a wonderful charity outreach and I encourage any optometrist with a global vision improvement goal to be involved in the next Trek for Sight.’

Trekkers, L-R, American optometrist Diane, Perth optometrist Robyn Main, Sri Lankan guide, Queensland optometrist Nikky Carr, Canadian optometrist Tannis, Sydney optometrist Marilyn Tucker, Australian guide Josh Wood from Tasmania and Richard Main from Perth.

 

 

 

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