Around the world, 36 million people suffer from preventable blindness despite the continuing advancement of highly sophisticated medical techniques and technology.

In an effort to combat this statistic and educate those in the local D.C. community about basic eye care and treatment, sophomores Brittany Ngo (MSB ’11) and Courtney Chang (NHS ’11) co-founded the Georgetown University undergraduate chapter of Unite for Sight this fall.

Unite for Sight is a nonprofit organization that works to educate people about proper eye care and eradicate needless blindness.

According to founder and CEO Jennifer Staple, the organization has trained over 5,000 volunteers who work locally and overseas to provide basic ophthalmological services to at least 600,000 people across the globe who had previously never had access to such medical guidance.

“The diverse talents, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of Unite for Sight’s volunteers help to develop and hone new approaches to the urgent preventable and curable eye care problems that afflict more than 36 million people worldwide,” Staple said.

“We encourage and provide the tools for Unite for Sight volunteers to be leaders of social change.”

Locally, community-based chapters of Unite for Sight reach out to those in need of complete eye examinations or treatment in their neighborhoods.

“We want to help people who suffer from eye illnesses and cannot afford insurance to realize the options that they have to seek treatment,” Ngo said. “With a simple outpatient surgery, people can regain their eyesight, yet so many are living without it.”

The chapter will be holding two free eye screenings in D.C. every month to cover general eye health and blindness prevention and provide referrals to free clinics where patients can be properly diagnosed and treated. They plan to work through neighborhood churches as well as The H.O.Y.A. Clinic.

“As a Georgetown chapter, we are most effective on the local level,” Chang said. “I haven’t really heard about anything like this in our community yet. We refer people to free health clinics and educate them about what resources are available.”

The national Unite for Sight organization provides extensive support for the growth and success of student chapters. In order to maintain a chapter, the group must meet deadlines and requirements for screening and fundraising. Furthermore, new volunteers must undergo basic eye disease background education training at the beginning of each year.

“Unite for Sight’s staff works closely with the leader of each chapter to establish effective, high-impact programs,” Staple said. “Chapter leaders learn the fundamentals of launching socially innovative programs and we provide chapter leaders and chapter volunteers with ample guidance and training.”

Currently, the largest obstacle that this newly established chapter faces is lack of Georgetown recognition. Because they do not have access to university funding and benefits, it is more difficult for the group to spread awareness around campus through fliers, tabling in Red Square and broadcast e-mails.

“It is difficult to maintain recognition with Unite for Sight because we’re not recognized by Georgetown,” Ngo said.

However, the group is currently undergoing the yearlong new club development process and anticipates achieving full recognition by April 2009. Regardless, Unite for Sight has been able to recruit many dedicated volunteers in a short period.

“I believe the response from the Georgetown community has been positive,” Ngo said. “In what we’ve been able to do, given certain restrictions, we’ve gotten a good turnout and found great people who are very committed and responsible.”

any of the members found that Unite for Sight provides a way to combine medical studies as well a passion for service. Others also have personal ties that draw them to this program.

“I am studying international health and really wanted to get into preventative health issues,” Dee Dee Wei (NHS ’12) said. “Through my own personal experience with eye health issues, I’ve learned that early detection is very important.”

Looking ahead, the group hopes to develop in a sustainable way and continue to expand. They are currently in talks with the Georgetown Medical School chapter of Unite for Sight to collaborate efforts in order to have an even greater local impact.

“In the future, I hope we will continue to grow and attract pre-med, NHS and all who are interested in social justice,” Chang said.

The registration deadline for Unite for Sight is Oct. 7.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.