Pre-optometry student to provide aid for sight in Africa

By PAT BOWDEN Reporter

This coming March, senior Biology and Pre-Optometry major Allison Guindon will be traveling to Accra, Ghana, Africa in order to help the group Unite for Sight as a Global Impact Fellow by assisting as an optician to professionals in the Optometry field performing eye surgery on those in great need and poverty.

The people of Ghana, one of the poorest nations in the world, commonly suffer from cataracts; a disease that causes blindness over time – but luckily, it is also is a very curable disease. Guindon believes she has a purpose to serve during her time in Accra as a future professional in optometry.

“It’s so simple for us [to get eye care] so we don’t realize how big of a deal it is when there isn’t a place to go get it done,” Guindon said. “I always wanted to study abroad and I love to travel, and my advisor recommended looking into it [Ghana]. I want to be an optometrist because I like to help people.”

Guindon also believes that eye care should be available to those who need it, and the mindset that sight is more of a necessity than a privilege that we have in the US should also be the mindset everywhere else.

“I don’t think people realize how important it [sight] is. People shouldn’t take their eyes for granted and I think it’s so important that people get eye care despite their status or if they can afford it or not, and if you lose that it can be a huge detriment to their life,” said Guindon. “This is an experience I could never get over here, and I absolutely love the idea of going over there and helping them with something that is so simple for us over here.”

Guindon’s Unite for Sight advisor, Jennifer Staple-Clark, who is also the founder and chief executive officer of Unite for Sight, is excited to have Guindon as a volunteer.

“We were impressed with Allison’s application and look forward to the opportunity to work with her soon in Ghana … Unite For Sight’s Global Impact Fellows engage in an immersive global health program, and they are interested in all aspects of public health, medicine, international development and social entrepreneurship,” Staple-Clark said.

    As a Global Impact Fellow, Guindon thinks that she may not only impact the lives of others, but in doing so her life may also be impacted in a positive light.

“I think it’s going to be a completely life changing experience … It’s going to open my eyes to completely different cultures and it’ll remind me of how lucky we are here,” said Guindon. “I think what it’s going to give me to be able to help people is going to give me a completely new perspective. I’m so excited I get to serve them.”

According to Staple-Clark, this experience for Guindon could heavily influence her future post-college decisions, as it has with past volunteers.

“While abroad, they support and learn from the talented local doctors who are social entrepreneurs addressing complex global health issues,” Staple-Clark said. “Global Impact Fellows return from abroad with comprehensive training in healthcare delivery, and they apply their lessons learned to their future careers. Unite For Sight’s globally-competent alumni are the change-makers of today.“

Unite for Sight serves the people of Ghana and other third world countries year-round, whereas other groups will sometimes do one-time missions to foreign countries in order to help with their sight. The group goes as far as stocking shelves with glasses for their patients – Guindon will be bringing a care package of 600 pairs of glasses with her to Accra, as other volunteers do when they make their journey for Unite for Sight.

    While in Accra, the SDSU senior will support and assist local doctors as an optician with between 100 and 300 patients everyday who live in villages or refugee camps.

    “… Important skills [for our volunteers] include acceptance of and respect for different cultures, the ability for cross-cultural communication, and a comprehensive understanding of global health,” Staple-Clark said. “They can synthesize academic knowledge from comparative fields, and use an interdisciplinary, culturally-appropriate approach to tackle global issues.”

As the senior prepares for her month long volunteer period in Africa, Guindon shares some of her anticipations for her trip to a foreign country. 

“I’m anticipating I’m going to struggle with food, so it’s going to be interesting to be somewhere I have limited access to food I’m used to … Traveling there is so much different, there are just small villages and there are no paved roads. I’m really excited to see how beautiful it is, it’s right on the coast [of Africa] and it has a lot of things to look at,” said Guindon.

Professionals in the field of medicine that she is pursuing will surround Guindon in Ghana, and while she may be nervous, she says she sees it as more of an opportunity to learn in a foreign environment that’s alien to a clinic setting back stateside. 

“I think it’s going to be a different perspective because they deal with different kinds of patients,” said Guindon. “I think they’re so much more experienced with their patients over there, so I’ll get to see that aspect of the profession.”

Guindon leaves on March 20 and will make her return back home on April 25 after a month in Africa.