IT WAS the little things Sophia Victor Feizal did, such as chatting with the elderly and serving drinks, that eased patients’ long wait while waiting to get their eyes checked.
“It is extremely fun to meet lots of people. It helps me gain confidence to talk to and help strangers,” said the 14-year-old from SMK Damansara Utama, who also helped patients choose the frames for their glasses.
“There is no big or small task when it comes to volunteering, as simple gestures such as smiling and chatting also matter.”
Sophia has been volunteering since she was four, helping her mother, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) lecturer and low-vision specialist Prof Datuk Dr Rokiah Omar, run vision screening programmes.
Prof Rokiah (second from right) with some of the volunteers who help her run the vision screening programme. They are (from left) Amira Nadia, Sophia and Dr Mohd Harimi.
UKM works with Yayasan Tun Rahah to run the programme for schoolchildren, villagers, orang asli folk and disadvantaged communities around peninsular Malaysia.
The initiative that started in 2000 receives additional funding from the University Community Transformation Centre (UCTC) and Higher Education Ministry’s Knowledge Transfer Programme.
“The simple act of correcting children’s poor vision can lead to them gaining self-confidence and doing well in school,” said Prof Rokiah.
“Some children may be labelled lazy or dumb or have no interest in learning because they cannot see clearly.
“But they experience a positive transformation when given prescription glasses.”
She said 20% of students in an under-performing secondary school in Kuala Krai, Kelantan had vision problems, adding that the school recorded a two-fold improvement in the SPM trial exam when it was rectified.
“Based on my research, about 20% to 30% of Malaysian children have some form of visual impairment,” said Prof Rokiah, who is also UKM UCTC director.
Prof Rokiah’s research led to the Health Ministry incorporating vision screening for young children when they go for health checks at government hospitals. This additional measure that started in 2011 is for children aged four onwards.
When she started, Prof Rokiah said she wanted an all-encompassing campaign that would cover vision screening programmes and provide glasses.
“Our programmes are run by professional optometrists and my optometry students, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels,” she said.
“We also train teachers and youth volunteers on ways to identify signs of visual impairment among young children. Those that fail our simple eye tests are referred to local optometrists for further checks and to get glasses.”
Prof Rokiah is happy all parties involved benefit from the programme.
“For the community, it offers solutions to address their vision problems. For the students, it allows them to volunteer and understand the real-world scenario,” she said.
“For the lecturers, we are able to get evidence to support our research and guide students in a practical setting. And for corporations, they have the opportunity to sponsor glasses as part of their corporate social responsibility initiative.”
Prof Rokiah (standing, left) watching as volunteers conduct the programme’s eye test on a preschooler.
Optometrist Amira Nadia Raup has been a volunteer since 2005, having been involved in the community work organised by the UKM Student Optometry Club.
“I replicated Prof Rokiah’s module to organise a vision screening programme in my hometown in Kampung Felda Adela in Kota Tinggi, Johor.
“She always reminded us that we must end the loop, by also providing glasses to address patients’ problems,” said the 32-year-old, adding that the programme was continued by the club in other villages.
Lecturer Dr Mohd Harimi Abd Rahman was one of the pioneers that started the vision screening programme with Prof Rokiah 17 years ago.
“Volunteering gave me hands-on clinical experience, taught me leadership and allowed me to give back to the community,” said the 34-year-old.
“I’m still involved because I feel that people still need my help. There is a greater lack of awareness among rural communities, so it’s also our responsibility to educate patients on post-prescription care and advise them to go for regular eye check-ups.”