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Stephanie Looi has had a busy time. She has fought bushfires and travelled to Norway to develop a new optometry course.

Ms Looi is the global service development manager for Brien Holden Vision Institute.

Searching for a way to get acquainted with her bush home town, she joined the Hornsby local Rural Fire Service four years ago.

As bushfires broke out in the Blue Mountains in October, she was involved in five days of activities including ‘mopping up’ fires, preparing local residents and constructing fire breaks.

She says the conditions in October were tough.

‘It was hot, with low humidity and at times it was very windy. This made the fire difficult, intense and unpredictable,’ she said. ‘Most of us know that a high 30s day is hot. Add a fire, protective clothing, physical labour and long days and nights to this, and it can be tough going.’

This year, Ms Looi joined a Remote Area Firefighting Team, or RAFT. Team members are expected to be highly fit as they are called in to fight fires that can be reached only after a long hike, or insertion by boat or helicopter.

RAFTs are often used to halt bushfires caused by lightning strike. A small team is dispatched to remote bushland to quell fires, often using dry fire-fighting techniques. Usually, there are no roads, trails or water sources to provide the team with means of escape.

‘One of the best things I think about the Rural Fire Service is that it has a role for anyone who wishes to contribute. All training and equipment is provided for you and training is ongoing,’ she said.

‘After your basic training, there is a huge variety of training courses you can do. For example, I learned to drive a truck and got a truck licence. This year, as part of my remote area training, I did a helicopter winch certification,’ she said.

‘The other thing that always strikes me is the resilience and community spirit of Australian people. We might gripe at each other or complain about our neighbours, but when the chips are down, the whole community comes together. From rallying around those who lost homes, looking after lost pets, to feeding very hungry firefighters, communities en masse laid aside their differences to contribute to something bigger.’

Norway

Stephanie Looi also travelled to visit the Norwegian School of Optometry at Kongsberg to assist develop eye care services in Moldova, as part of her role in global service development at Brien Holden Vision Institute.

Eastern Europe is a new region for the work of the institute.

‘Currently, refractive error services in Moldova are provided by ophthalmologists but the ophthalmology training program has limited refraction training,’ Ms Looi said.

The institute is partnering with Nicolae Testemitanu State University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Norwegian NGO ‘Help Moldova’, the Norwegian Association of Optometry, the School of Optometry at Buskerud University College and Optometry Giving Sight in order to develop eye health services.

The union of agencies is developing a refractive education and training program for Moldovan ophthalmologists, with a view to developing an optometry degree program at Nicolae Testemitanu University.

Donate to Optometry Giving Sight at www.givingsight.org.

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