ABC 2019 Volunteer - Riya Makan, a student on a mission

Riya Makan

Join us in welcoming Riya Makan, a final year optometry student with a keen passion for volunteering. She will be a team member on the upcoming Annapurna Base Camp trip.

Read what Riya has to say!

“I am a final year optometry student at QUT and I work part time at an independent optometry practice in Brisbane. I have been itching to be a part of this trip since I first heard about it when I started my degree so I’m really excited to finally have enough skills and knowledge to be able to come along and contribute to the beautiful people in Nepal!

At the end of last year, I was lucky enough to be part of an amazing trip through Mexico and South America. A few highlights of the trip included a VOSH mission in Mexico where we provided basic eye exams/dispensed donated glasses to the people of Ciudad Guzman, as well as completing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

I love hiking and exploring south-east Queensland, as well as spending days at the beach.

Please donate to this amazing cause here!https://www.mycause.com.au/page/203142/2019-eyes4everest-mission

Everest One 2019 Volunteer - Claire Walker

Claire

Let’s hear from another one of our Everest One team, Claire Walker. She hails from Ireland☘️ and has been working as an optometrist in Australia.

“I’ve worked in East Melbourne for over 5 years in a big store along side 5 optometrists with a great bunch of people. I love keeping up to date with new research, myopia control, and courses, and recently finished my level 1 sign language course to help my deaf patients.

I arrived in Melbourne in November 2013 after being sponsored through the OCANZ cross-over exams & jumped at the opportunity. I have been qualified over 10 years now and went to university in Scotland (and from Ireland). I got the chance to travel around Scotland for work, seeing the effects of blindness in under privileged communities and what should be done to prevent this makes me motivated to help people.

I have always loved the idea of volunteering for an eye charity but never got around to it before now.

Jack & myself moved over together and we love Australia and everything outdoors. I started my love for hiking in school years, completing the Duke of Edinburgh's mountaineering awards, and all the volunteering work required to complete them. I am really excited for this physical and mental challenge and a great excuse to become fitter to hopefully make the trek easier.


I am currently training for a half marathon, doing all things Pilates, boxing & cycling. I love nothing more than being in the fresh air and outdoors. We have hiked in some great places so far, New Zealand being the most scenic & challenging , Scotland, Southern Spain & any free weekend in Victoria. I cannot wait to see Everest up close and meet the Sherpa people.”

Support Claire’s cause here: https://www.mycause.com.au/page/204947/eyes4everest-gokyo-ri-october-2019

Everest One 2019 Volunteer - Cathy Wang

You might remember Cathy from our “Ready to Trek” training session with Rowan from Summit Strength earlier on this year! Cathy is a Sydney based optometrist and is joining Eyes4Everest this year as part of the Everest One team for October 2019.

Cathy

Cathy has mainly been in working in the Sydney metro area, so she’s looking forward to being out in nature and bringing eye care to rural areas of Nepal. She’s sure it will be eye-opening (pun totally intended) to trek and deliver primary eye care that we often take for granted. 

Cathy often conquers day hikes and travels, but is up to the physcial and mental challenge of doing a multi-day altitude hike for the first time.

Cathy is keen to volunteer her eyecare skills and explore something that’s a bit out of her comfort zone. Eyes4Everest give her the opportunity to do both!

Here’s a few words from Cathy herself:

“I've started a fundraising page to contribute to Eyes4Everest's aim of building a sustainable eye care program for the Himalayan people. 

If you wish to contribute click in: https://www.mycause.com.au/page/203157/cathys-going-to-everest-what

Don't forget it's tax deductible!”

ABC 2019 Volunteer - Rose Huang (she's back again!)

Rose is back at it again! A volunteer for our 2017 Gokyo Trip, she’s back to tackle the adventure of Annapurna. She’s passionate about eyecare and is excited to join the team. Learn more about her, below.

Rose

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Hi!

I’m Rose, an optometrist (full-time optometrist, full-time banter queen, part-time wannabe rapper and casual gym-goer!). This is my fourth year out, and I’m interested in all things eyes, especially myopia control and behavioural. I’ve been fortunate to work in beautiful Illawarra and have the most wonderful patients ever. 

I’ve hiked a bit here and there, but I’d say my biggest athletic achievement to date was the one time I threw some rubbish into the bin, from 2m away, it rebounded off the wall and fell into the trash can. Talk about athleticism!

I love eyes, all things eyes but there are a lot of people close to me that have not had the best vision and are blind now from something that was preventable. Let’s change this future for who we still can. Got some spare lunch money? Donate here: https://www.mycause.com.au/page/203750/donate-to-eyes4everest-annapurna 


Everest One 2019 Volunteer - Meet Kevin La

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I'm an optometrist based in Sydney, Australia. I recently graduated from UNSW Optometry School in 2018, and am now thoroughly enjoying my first optometry role working in a diverse community. I am excited for all the experiences to come as my career moves forward.

I have done minor day hikes in past, however, Eyes4Everest will be my first time jumping into a hike which involves altitude trekking and camping. It's something I have always wanted to do and I am grateful for the opportunity.

The Himalayan mountains look stunning in photography. Eyes4Everest will allow me to altitude trek for the first time in one of Earth's beautiful regions, while allowing me to use the skills I have learnt in optometry to help provide extremely valuable eye care to Nepalese communities along the way. Doesn't get any better than that!

Please support fundraising efforts to help develop sustainable eyecare in the Himalayan mountain communities : https://www.mycause.com.au/page/202864/eyes4everest-2019-campaign

ABC 2019 Volunteer - Rory Dowdall

ABC 2019 Volunteer - Rory Dowdall

Rory, on the right!

Rory, on the right!

Rory Dowdall is a member of our 2019 Annapurna Base Camp team. Learn a bit more about this ambitious optometrist!

I’m an Optometrist at My Eye Care Centre, a new optometry practice within the My Medical & Dental group and Mullein Pharmacy group. The practice has a strong focus on Dry eye management and co-management of ocular diseases and general health outcomes with our General practitioners, but we also provide a very personalised service to all of our patients with every step of the journey carried out by our Optometrist, and I also do outcalls to local Nursing homes near the practice too.

A first year graduate from QUT school of Optometry who is brave/stupid enough to try to run a new practice as my first job out from University. Prior to studying Optometry I completed my Bachelor of Science at Griffith University and worked as a Sleep Scientist for a couple of years, but decided night shift was definitely not for me.  

I’ve had some hiking experience mainly to the hinterland region in the Sunshine Coast and a few “Great Walk” treks that involved very mild trekking and excess consumption of Gatorade, Museli Bars, Spam in a can and red wine while camping.

During my student years I managed to do a few placements in regional Queensland which showed the amazing impact we can have as practitioners in rural areas in need, however it was my placement in 2017/8 in India that was a real “eye-opener” (pardon the pun), seeing some of the work that was carried out by the LV Prasad Eye Hospital and the Brien Holden Vision Institute in regional India to those less fortunate really inspired me to volunteer my spare time helping those that need it most. This is why I’ve joined Eyes4Everest this year.

My training for the trek was recently set back by nearly breaking my ankle while playing social sport, however being off crutches and back into the gym has been great, and I’m looking at doing a few more treks around the Samford region along with some personal training at Shape Up fitness in Newstead along with taking up cycling for cardio-vascular fitness.

ABC 2019 Volunteer - Meet Rebecca Verster

ABC 2019 Volunteer - Meet Rebecca Verster

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My name is Rebecca (Bex) and I am an optometrist working in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. I have just returned home from a year travelling around the world interspersed with some short term locum work in Australia. I graduated in 2013 and have been lucky enough to work in regional areas throughout NZ that have provided a great outdoor lifestyle. I love to run, hike and enjoy most sports , I play tennis and hockey. We are so lucky to have so many beautiful mountains to climb in NZ and on our travels we climbed Mount Kinabalu in Bornea which was my first time 'high altitude trekking', I have the bug for it now!

This will be my first volunteer trip and I'm really excited to be able to use my skills and training to provide eye care to a region that is so under-resourced and has such limited access to services.


Seasons Greeting from the President

Seasons Greeting from the President

Dear Friends & Volunteers,

 Many thanks for your continued support of Eyes4Everest.

We had 2 trips this year, one to Everest Base Camp and one to Annapurna Base camp. Our volunteers were led by Sherpa guides and a Sherpa optometrist – both trips were a huge success. Eyes4Everest was able to service the villages of Ulleri and Phakding for the first time during these trips. Overall, the ABC and EBC team performed a total 409 comprehensive eye examinations and prescribed 110 pairs of spectacles.  

My only mountaineering trip in 2018 was a technical one

My only mountaineering trip in 2018 was a technical one

Abseiling down was much easier

Abseiling down was much easier

 I spent most of 2018 keeping fit on the stair machine and implementing Michael Gerber’s book ‘The E-myth revisited’. The main aim of this year was to make Eyes4Everest as sustainable as can be. This involved reviewing and improving the systems, defining clear roles and writing an operation manual for every role. I quickly learned that the charity required better directions for marketing and finance. On the suggestion of our co-founder Carina Trinh, I read books written by Scott Pape (The Barefoot Investor), Michael Kemp (Australian Value Investor) and Mike Michalowicz (Profit First) and built a strong understanding of personal and business finance. I would highly recommend you to read these books. As a result, our operating expenses have significantly reduced and we are confident about the sustainability of our future.

Eyes4Everest was fortunate to have Robyn Weinberg as a volunteer this year. Robyn was the former director of OneSight (Luxottica’s charity) and has vowed to support Eyes4Everest with her resources and connections. Finally, I love to acknowledge my Aunty, Lady Huang from Taiwan. We were probably 2 years away from raising enough funds to build a clinic before she made a generous donation in October. My Aunty’s sight was taken away by glaucoma but things might have been different if the condition was caught early. She made this donation in the hope that having a permanent clinic will help prevent a similar fate to others. We honour her and have begun the process of building a permanent clinic in Khumjung.

2019 will be an interesting year as a lot goes into building a clinic. The thought of seeing our friends in Nepal, the bubbly volunteers and the mountains puts a smile on my face. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Stay safe during the holidays!

Happy New Year Everyone!
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Shaun Chang

President and Founder of Eyes4Everest 

Innocence to Experience

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Innocence to Experience

ABC Adventures: Part Three

Notes from the Annapurna Sanctuary

Written by Pete Gardner

The world is a book, and those that never travel read only one page
— Augustine of Hippo
Satellite and Shooting Stars at Annapurna Base Camp

Satellite and Shooting Stars at Annapurna Base Camp

It is impossible to be a part of a journey like the Eyes4Everest Annapurna Base Camp mission, and not come away changed. Our ability to use our skills to help others who would not otherwise have access to eye health care, and the physical challenges of trekking through the valleys, and mountains of this incredibly beautiful part of our world, leave an indelible mark on your heart and mind.

It was 3am, and the sky was crystal and cloudless. As I stood alone in the starlight at Annapurna base camp, taking photos of the stars over the peaks of Annapurna and Machhapuchhre, I could hear the cracking of the great glacier carving out its irresistible path in the valley below me, punctuated by the distant ominous booming of avalanches echoing through this great cathedral of the Earth.

In a few hours, trekkers from all over the globe, crammed into the lodges at ABC, would be up and jostling for prime positions to watch the sunrise, before packing up their kit and making the descent back to the business of the modern world. 

But for now, standing in the still, cold night air, watching satellites pass silently overhead, I was able to reflect upon our journey and how far we had come.

United we stand

United we stand

Team ABC had achieved our goal, we had finished our primary mission of the clinics at the primary school in Ulleri, and the health centre in Chitre, met and befriended some wonderful beautiful people, and pushed ourselves physically and mentally to reach this point.

Five Australians and Six Nepalese had bonded as a team
Wendy Berlecky

“When I received the email asking for volunteers for the Annapurna mission. I recalled a recount from a couple of years earlier where, on the last morning of the clinic in some remote village , they had opened the windows only to see the queue to the clinic trailing off down the hill. Word had spread and villagers had walked for hours to have their eyes tested. Unfortunately they couldn’t get to everyone that last day so many made the long walk home unseen. That broke my heart.

Being 57 years old though, I didn’t think it was something I would be able to be a part of. My family were all very supportive and confident that I was fit enough so I went ahead and volunteered. It has been the most amazing experience!

I was on the refraction team and, after doing a ret, holding up lenses my patient grabbed my hands and wouldn’t let go because they could see for the first time in years! I will always treasure the huge grin when I took her outside to show her how the world should look; and the enormous hug at the end of it all.

I think I have the dubious honour of being the oldest volunteer to date but please don’t let age deter you from such an amazing experience. You won’t regret it”.

Wendy Berlecky - Sydney Optometrist

Ashley and Sasina at the Management Station

“Working with Eyes4Everest was the most rewarding and broadening experience I’ve had to date. This expedition fulfilled me in so many ways, and exhausted me mentally and physically.

What impacted me the most was the genuine connection I was able to create with a team I’d never worked with before, patients from what felt like an entire world away, and the Nepalese family we formed with our guides and porters.

Despite different cultures, languages and ways of life, I felt connections and genuine understandings with the Nepalese people. Although the objective of our mission was to provide needed eye care health to the remote villages of the Himalayas, I feel like  I’m leaving with a more satisfied soul and heart. Seeing the faces of those we helped is invaluable.

Being a dispenser was always a secondary career for me, something I never really thought I could change the world with. But seeing myself use skills I took for granted, to help people who really needed it has changed my world, something I’ll never take for granted again. I’m leaving Nepal feeling more inspired than ever before, and I really do hope I’ll be back here to continue more work with the Himalayan mountain communities”.

Ashley George - Sydney Optical Dispenser

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“I’d highly recommend the Eyes 4 Everest trek to anyone and everyone!

The physical challenge I was prepared for, but what I found really surprising was the mental challenge as well. But working together as a group with a shared goal is what really helped us get there in the end.

It’s amazing to be on the other side of the world, knowing only a handful of words of the local language, and working with a team of people who were strangers a few days ago, all just working together to help in whatever small way we can.

10/10, would do again”.

Megan Jayne Zabell - Melbourne Optometrist

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“This is my third trip to Nepal with Eyes4Everest. When I first heard that there is need for primary eye care in the Everest region, naturally I felt I should be there. I can put my skills to use where it's needed and it's such an amazing part of the world!

This ABC trip has been a wonderful experience. Apart from the rewarding feeling of completing the trek and helping people solve eye problems, what is invaluable to me is all the wonderful people I get to spend time with on the trip. Sherpas are the sweetest and kindest people you'd ever meet. As well, spending time with your colleagues in an environment where life is so simple and basic, you get to know a different side of them.

Being close to nature somehow bring out people's real selves. Genuine human connection happens - something we are getting less and less of as the world get faster and busier. The ABC trip is surely not sipping cocktails by the pool side. The experience is second to none and will forever hold a special place in the hearts of those that share the same precious memories”.

Jenny Hsieh - Brisbane Optometrist

Dreams of ABC cloud my mind

Dreams of ABC cloud my mind

As I write, I am sitting in the hotel in Kathmandu, having a momentary break from the noise and chaos of this incredible city. We have handed over the optometry equipment and plenty of advice (listen to your guides and look after your porters!!) to the Everest team, who have now assembled before they fly out to start their mission tomorrow. I am looking forward to following their adventures over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!!

It has been my immense honour and privilege to work with Team ABC 2018, thank you to Wendy, Ashley, Megan, Jenny, and especially Tashy! an awesome team of professionals to work with! A special thanks to our Supermen Mani, Dil and Laxman who carried a couple of consulting rooms to the top of a mountain! And we couldn’t have done this without the care and watchful gaze of our guides Kami and Santosh! Thank you all for the last three weeks this has been an immeasurable experience, and I am now fitter than I have been for a decade!

Finally, I need to say a heartfelt thank you to our families back home. Without your support none of this would be possible. Thank you and love to you all.

Chances like this don’t come along very often, when they do, grasp them with both hands and don’t let go!
— Pete Gardner - Perth Optometrist & Photographer

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Tali Weinberg - EBC Correspondent

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Tali Weinberg - EBC Correspondent

Written by Tali Weinberg

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Tali Weinberg is a Marketing Manager for a non-for profit organisation that raises funds for life changing, environmental and social welfare projects.

She graduated from Macquarie University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Commerce and Major in Marketing. Since then, Tali has put her marketing skills to developing strategies to attract volunteers, engage donors, and educate the broader community.

Tali has always been an adrenaline junky and loves the great outdoors! Skydiving is just one of the many thrill seeking activities Tali has ticked off her bucket list, and she can’t wait to add Everest into it.

Higgins!

Higgins!

Tali has been surrounded by people with a passion for eye care and has grown up being inspired by the work of various charities. Most recently, Tali decided there was no better way to combine her love for animals and appreciation for vision care than to sign up a Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs Australia. Higgins joined the Weinberg family last year, spending his puppy years before entering Guide Dog Training Program. 8 pairs of destroyed shoes and a few misdemeanours later, Higgins became the number supporter for the Eyes4Everest training regime, accompanying her and her family on all their weekend hikes.

Tali is excited to be joining the Eyes4Everest EBC team. Not only does it combine all her passions, but also allows her to be involved in sharing the Eyes4Everest story. Tali will be keeping followers back home updated throughout the EBC journey with the sharing of photos and blogging.

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Superstars and Supermen

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Superstars and Supermen

ABC Adventures: Part Two

Notes from the Annapurna Sanctuary

Written by Pete Gardner

For a long time, Chan had problems with her eyesight. When news came of our arrival, she trekked three hours to see us. The whites of her cataracts were clearly visible. Chan could only see the large letters on the chart.

Lenses improved her vision a little but it was not enough. Megan and Jenny determined there was no glaucoma, corneal or retinal damage. Tashy prepared a referral for cataract surgery so arrangements could be made to travel to Pokhara. The operation would have a massive impact on her life.

Dhawalagiri, the 7th highest peak in the world, dominated the cloudless skyline over the tiny mountain village of Chitre, as we set up for our last clinic before trekking back to Ghorepani.

We were not expecting as many people this morning having seen almost everyone from village the day before. Through the clinic a few pairs of reading glasses were dispensed. A farmer with uncorrected high astigmatism was happy he would see his TV clearly. As we were wondering if it was time to pack up, two elderly sisters came walking up the track. Word had reached Chan Mati Pun and her sister, that Eyes4Everest were at the Chitre health centre and they made the three hour trek across the mountain to see us.  

Chan and her sisters

Chan and her sisters

Having now been in Nepal for ten days, I reflected on how much I have fallen in love with this place and the people who live here.  It has also been my immense privilege to work alongside our team of Australian optometrists and dispensers, but more so our guides, porters and Tashy our resident Nepalese optometrist whose drive and commitment to the Eyes4Everest cause is nothing short of astounding.

Tashy and Kami testing the local school children

Tashy and Kami testing the local school children

Tashy studied optometry in India, leaving her family in the Everest region to study.  She became aware of Eyes4Everest whilst in her third year when a clinic was held in her home village and her parents were tested.  Tashy volunteered her services upon graduating and now works at a clinic in Kathmandu with special dispensation to join the Eyes4Everest missions.  She will leave Team ABC when we return to Kathmandu and immediately join Team EBC to the Everest region and onward to the Everest base camp.

I have learned the Nepali people have a caste system which is determined by the region you are from. Unlike the negative aspects and division often perceived from caste, the Nepalese have no animosity between groups and mingle and intermarry freely.  For example, the Everest region is the home of the Sherpa and Rai peoples. The Sherpas are best known as specialist mountain guides, and Kami, our chief guide, is a master of his craft.  The area we are trekking through is home to the Gurung, Magar and Pun peoples. The Gurung make up the majority of the Ghurka regiments of the British and Nepalese army’s and most Gurung families have at least one member in the services, providing a good steady income to send home.  Otherwise, most of the Himalayan people survive with little income, subsistence farming on the hillsides. The tourism and trekking industry brings vital income to the area.

Ashley and Sasina at the Management Station

Ashley and Sasina at the Management Station

Unsurprisingly services are scarce. Many villages have a basic health clinic such as the one at Chitre, often sponsored through charitable donations. During our Chitre clinics we had great help from the resident nurse Sasina. She is two months in to a five year placement sponsored by the Himalayan project, and is already a welcome and valued member of the community.

In medical emergency emergencies, helicopter evacuation to the municipal centre of Pokhara is the only option... if you can afford it. If not the patient will need to walk or be carried, often for 2-3 days to the nearest bus station at Kimrung Khola.

Eyes4Everest makes a very valuable contribution to these communities.  Often, it is the only opportunity for a person to get their eyes examined.  Leaving Chitre was hard, many of the villagers gathered to bid us farewell, and we were all decked with garlands of marigold as a farewell gift. Eventually we tore ourselves away, with final goodbye hugs and a wave. We may have arrived as strangers, but we left as friends.

Ashley decorated with garlands of marigold

Ashley decorated with garlands of marigold

After the trek back up the hill to Ghorepani we hit the sleeping bags for an early night, as Kami was leading us up Poon Hill before first light.

There are very few people you implicitly trust with your life the moment you meet them.  Kami Tenzing Sherpa is one of those people. A professional mountain guide, he is also a very humble man.  If I had climbed Everest three times, I would be telling everyone I met! Kami has also climbed Ama dablam, a technical peak in the Everest region, along with several mountains over six thousand meters. He will be leading another expedition to the summit of Everest in the next climbing season.

Kami spends the climbing season in April/May and trekking season from September to November, away from his young family.  With a seven year old daughter and two and a half year old son, he says the hardest part of his work is leaving them. He spends the remainder of the year training and improving his guiding qualifications.  Kami started guiding for Eyes4Everest 3 years ago taking over from his father in law when he retired. He feels very committed to the project and is proud that he has seen hundreds of people benefit from the work.  I must add, Kami has a wonderful singing voice, and it is a pleasure to listen to him humming Nepali folk songs as we walk the trail.

Our other guide and translator on the trip is Santosh. He is from the same village as Kami, Khumjung in the Everest region. Santosh and Kami are old friends, and guide with Eyes4Everest together.  Santosh also has a young family. His daughter is nine and his son is two and a half. Like Kami, Santosh is guiding the upcoming EBC trip, which is fortunately passing through khumjung, where he is looking forward to seeing his family for a short time.  He tells me he is guiding one more trek after EBC, and is looking forward to being back home to be with his family and resuming his work as a carpenter.

The Eyes4Everest ABC Team. Santosh and Kami are pictured on the bottom left row

The Eyes4Everest ABC Team. Santosh and Kami are pictured on the bottom left row

We reached the top of Poon Hill, or more accurately Pun Hill, after the Pun people of the region.  Magnificent views of the Dhawalagiri and Annapurna ranges greeted us, illuminated by the full moon, glowing against the blackness of the predawn sky.  Few words can adequately describe the change in light as the sun rises slowly from behind Machhapuchhte, the dawn light first catching the slopes of Dhawalagiri before washing over the ranges in a slow dance of light and colour. Poon Hill is advertised as the greatest viewpoint in the world. For once I think the product may well match the ad.

On returning to the lodge our porters Dil, Laxman and Mani were getting ready to set off. We hastily packed our gear and these three immensely strong men prepared the packs for carrying.  To be honest, once my bag is filled with my sleeping bag, clothes and heaps of optometry equipment, I have enough trouble getting it down the stairs. These supermen carry this, all the rest of the consulting equipment, and everyone else’s gear up the mountains, whilst we saunter along with our day packs.

Our Three Porters - Laxman, Dil and Mani

Our Three Porters - Laxman, Dil and Mani

Mani has been portering for the last three years on season, and is a tea farmer in his home village of Ilam in Nepal’s tea garden area, being newly married he is looking forward to seeing his wife briefly in Kathmandu before portering for this years EBC mission.

Laxman has been portering for 4 years, and works as a painter in the off season.  From Salere in the Everest region, he tells me he too misses his four year old daughter when he is away, but does enjoy the work although it is hard.

Dil comes from Kanku in the low Everest region.  Prior to portering for the last two years he worked in construction in Saudi Arabia.  There was no hesitation when I asked which he preferred, his answer given with a big smile.  He continues to work in construction the rest of the year, happy to spend the time with his eighteen month old daughter.

Although Dil, Mani and Laxman have limited English, all three were invaluable help during the clinics, translating and shepherding the people between stations. They made the clinics run much more smoothly and frequently ensured we were using the right notes for the right patient, as it was easy for the ipods with the eye exam records app to get mixed up.

Journey to Annapurna Base Camp

Journey to Annapurna Base Camp

As I write this, we are on our way to Annapurna base camp.  The optometry equipment has been placed in storage at Chomrong, broadening the smile on the faces of our porters. Kami briefs us each day on what to expect on the trek, whether lots of climbing through magical old growth rhododendron forest, or descent into stunning river gorges. Occasionally we have a “flat” section with “Nepali flat” becoming a standing joke with the team.  

As we trek up the Modi Khola valley, steadily gaining altitude, the terrain is changing, lush rainforest blending into bamboo, and sedimentary rock with rich soils giving way to slabs of exposed granite. Annapurna One is still not visible from our current location, but each day Annapurna South, Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhre dominate the skyline, growing ever larger as we get ever closer to the base of these great ancient sentinels.

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The Boy that Smiled

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The Boy that Smiled

ABC Adventures: Part One

Notes from the Annapurna Sanctuary

Written by Pete Gardner

Team ABC Ready to Begin their Journey at Kathmandu Tribuhvan Airport

Team ABC Ready to Begin their Journey at Kathmandu Tribuhvan Airport

Davi sat in the testing chair. He looked more nervous than the other children. I looked at his notes, no problems with his vision had been reported, but his vision was not as good as expected.

One quick flick with the retinoscope, and I slipped a pair of -1.50 lenses into the trial frame. The smile spread across his face as he saw clearly for the first time. It will live with me forever.

This is why I do optometry for a living, and now I have the chance to do it at an elevation of 2000m in the shadow of Annapurna South.

The Annapurna Base Camp team, Ashley George, Jenny Hsieh, Megan Zabell, Wendy Berlecky and myself Pete Gardner, arrived in Kathmandu three days ago. I met Jenny at Kuala Lumpur airport as we caught the same flight in, and we passed through immigration at Nepal international airport without a hitch, unlike poor Ashley who apparently had some explaining to do as to why she was carrying 100 bottles of eyedrops.

My first experience of Kathmandu traffic was... exciting. The chaotic dance of taxis, mopeds, and rickshaws is a sight to behold! I realised quickly that Nepalese vehicles don’t have indicators, or possibly brakes, but they all have a horn, and if you are a pedestrian on a zebra crossing, well... good luck!

We met Julie Lam, our E4E representative on the ground, and after a briefing on how the next couple of weeks were going to look, we set out to explore the sights, sounds and sheer frenzy that is Kathmandu, finishing up with Julie taking us to her favourite back street curry house for a magnificent vegetarian curry. We all heeded the warnings, and the carnivores amongst us resolved to join our non meat eating colleagues, and go meat free for the trek.

Returning to the hotel, some hasty repacking was done to ensure all the equipment for the trip fit into the Eyes4Everest duffel bags. The weight of which was a struggle to get down the stairs the following morning, as I remembered our porters were going to be carrying these up the mountain... more of that later. 

After an early breakfast, we loaded up the cab, and headed back into the much quieter early morning traffic, still like a ride on the fun fair dodgem cars, but with random cows thrown into the mix, to arrive in good time to meet Tashy, our resident Nepalese optometrist. 

It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression “as pretty as an airport”, and Tribhuvan domestic airport wastes no time in proving Douglas Adam correct.

Fortunately Tashy’s expertise navigated us through the chaos and through security (with separate male and female channels to facilitate efficient frisking) to arrive at our gate in plenty of time for our unsurprisingly delayed flight. Considering all flights to the Everest region have been cancelled for the last week due to poor weather, I consider we were lucky. 

Everything made it to Pokhara

Everything made it to Pokhara

Pretty soon we were aboard the small Yeti airlines flight leaving the haze which shrouds Kathmandu behind us. Blue skies opened up above the cloud and we drank in our first view of the Himalayan mountains. I spent the whole flight staring out of the window, mesmerised, with my mouth open in awe doing my best to look like a goldfish. Meanwhile, local resident Tashy, sitting next to me, idly flicked through the in flight magazine. 

25 minutes and a rather “solid” landing later (not sure if we left a dent in the runway...) we were disembarking and collecting the luggage.  We met the remainder of our team in the car park. Our guides Kami and Santos, and our porters Laxman, Dil and Mani, whom I suspect may be part Kryptonian, due to their incredible strength and stamina.  

A two hour bone rattler of a road trip led out of Pokhara up the mountain, dodging mopeds on their way down the switchbacks. The road rapidly deteriorated, giving the bus driver ample opportunity to show off his driving skills keeping four wheels on the road and not relocating us into the valley below. Arriving at Naya Pal, the starting point for the Annapurna sanctuary trek. I watched our trio of porters tying together the Eyes4Everest duffels with other bags and rucksacks, then lifting the whole dead weight onto their backs, held in place by a strap around the forehead. Did I mention their super human strength?

In the shadow of Annapurna South (Pictured Left)

In the shadow of Annapurna South (Pictured Left)

Over the next few hours we trekked in glorious sunshine under blue skies past rice paddies, wallowing water buffalo and through small villages, with people going about the business of life, chatting with the neighbours, bathing the baby, fixing dinner, and even the obligatory bored looking teen glued to her mobile phone. Doesn’t matter where you go in the world.

As the afternoon wore on we started to feel the heat making what should have been the easy day to break in the walking legs a bigger challenge than expected. The heat also took its toll on our porters, proving that even supermen have limits. With the heat slowing us down and the initial delay in setting off, it became obvious that if we carried on to Ulleri we would be finishing the climb in the dark. Kami our head guide made the call to pull up early so we spent the night in Tikhedhunga. 

Waking bright and early, we breakfasted on Grung bread, like a deep fried naan bread, and when eaten with jam, tastes like a guilt free jam doughnut. Over the next two hours we made the vertical climb up the 500 meter staircase to Ulleri. As we struggled up the steep climb in the heat, we were overtaken by a number of school kids in shirts and ties, skipping up the steps, not breaking a sweat... we would meet these kids again later for their eye tests. I wonder what they really thought of these weird Australians?

After a 500m climb in the hot sun up to Ulleri, the ABC team set up our makeshift consulting room in the local school, we had our team briefing and took our assigned stations. Megan and Jenny having the ignominy of setting up the ocular examination station in a newly built, and fortunately unused, toilet as it was the only place they could shut out the light!

Over the next four hours the team examined all the children at the Shree Ulleri Primary School. The kids were typically excited, nervous, and highly inquisitive, and totally unable to resist picking up my retinoscope and trial set lenses for a closer look.

Patients waiting outside the Ulleri Primary School

Patients waiting outside the Ulleri Primary School

Over the afternoon, we saw over fifty kids and a couple of teachers, a few hyperopic kids were struggling with reading, and Davi needed his distance correction, but the kids were generally fit well and happy, and having a great time being kids! I only had to stop them fiddling with the trial lenses several times...

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The following morning we woke early with a magnificent view of Annapurna South, which towers over the villages, a quick commute back to the school, found a bustling queue already starting to form. Over the day we saw over 60 people for full examinations. With many people trekking in several hours from the surrounding villages, showing the need for basic health care services in these remote areas. We attempted to get through everyone who turned up, but we are only a small group and by 5.30 the light was fading, Wendy and myself were speeding through our refractions with steam coming out of our retinoscopes, but eventually it was too dark and I’m sad to say a few left disappointed. Over 30 orders were placed for glasses, the majority as expected for near work. A few cataracts were diagnosed, and many drops for dry eyes and allergy were dispensed. I am happy to say we did not find much pathology, Himalayan people are a lot fitter and healthier than your average Aussie.

Wendy refracting a patient

Tonight we will have a well earned rest and head off bright and early for the trek to Chitre where we have another two full days of eye exams booked in. 

We are just getting started!!!!

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Pete Gardner, an optometrist of many talents - ABC 2018 volunteer

Pete Gardner, an optometrist of many talents - ABC 2018 volunteer

Pete Gardner, is an optometrist and photographer based in the Swan Valley north of Perth. He is an Area Eyecare Manager for OPSM in Western Australia, spending half his week consulting at OPSM Midland, and the rest of his time coaching and mentoring the team of graduate optometrists working for OPSM across the Perth region. “After 20 years in the profession, I still have the same love for optometry as I did when I graduated, I aim every day to improve the lives of each of my patients who sit in my consulting room, I cannot wait for the chance to do the same for people in the mountain communities of Nepal”

Pete is also a highly skilled photographer, and is excited to be expedition photographer and blogger for the Annapurna Base Camp Team arriving in Nepal next week, keeping everyone in Australia updated with the teams progress and adventures.

Pete developed his landscape photography skills as an optometry student at Bradford University, spending his weekends Caving in the Yorkshire Dales or climbing the mountains of Scotland and Snowdonia, it was only natural the camera should come along.

Pete moved to Australia in 2002 and as an avid scuba diver he instantly took to the incredible waters around the Australian coast, which led to him becoming an accomplished underwater photographer.

Having a young family now it is not as easy getting out into the wilderness or underwater as it once was, so Pete can often be found indulging his passion for rock music, photographing local and international touring bands playing in Perth, publishing his work in local online music magazines.

You can see Pete’s photography at petegardnerphotography.com

Show your support by following him on Facebook and Instagram: @petegardnerphotography

 

Staying Snug in your Sleeping Bag - Nepalese Trekking

Staying Snug in your Sleeping Bag - Nepalese Trekking

A long day of hiking has your body begging for a great night's rest. You can see it, you're so close, it's almost time to get into that sleeping bag.

The rooms along the trekking routes are not heated so it can be bitterly cold at night. 

Typical teahouse accommodation with complimentary blankets and pillow. Put your sleeping bag on top of the mattress. Pile on the blankets for extra warmth 🔥

Typical teahouse accommodation with complimentary blankets and pillow. Put your sleeping bag on top of the mattress. Pile on the blankets for extra warmth 🔥

Here's some tips to stay comfy and toasty:

1. Sleeping bag ratings: A sleeping bag comfort rating is based on a person wearing thermals. For trekking in Nepal from October to December, a four-season sleeping bag with a comfort rating (not extreme) of 0 degrees may be sufficient. If you feel the cold, you can sleep in your down jacket. If you tend to run cold naturally, we recommend a higher rated sleeping bag.

A sleeping bag liner is highly recommended as you will be quite dirty after days of trekking. They're a must for hygiene in rented sleeping bags. 

2. Teahouse goodies: The teahouses you are staying in are likely to have blankets and/or pillows but don't bank on them. Bring a liner or something to put on top of the pillows - the pillows there have seen many hikers' heads. If you cannot sleep without a good pillow, bring an inflatable pillow. To save space, you can stuff your carrier bag with soft clothes to make a great pillow. It is always good to sleep with your head elevated - it helps prevent cerebral oedema at high altitudes.

3. Luxuries: Walls are thin plywood and not insulated, making earplugs a wise choice. The high altitude and the cold drains batteries very quickly. Place all your electronics and batteries in your sleeping bag with you to keep them warm and conserve battery. I recommend putting them in a ziplock bag so you don't need to play hide-and-seek with them in the morning. There's nothing worse than waking up with a battery in your sock or a plug jamming into your spine. 

4. Makeshift electric blanket: Imagine if you could get the feeling of an electric blanket on the freezing mountains.... well you can!

  1. Fill a Nalgene with hot water.
  2. Roll hot Nalgene around the inside of the bag for a few minutes to warm up all corners
  3. Toss said Nalgene (wrapped in a sock or fleece) in as a hot water bottle.
  4. Step in and be embraced by the hug of a warm sleeping bag. P.S. make sure the bottle lid is tight - down feathers+water = ruined sleeping bag and clothes for the whole trip. 

Stay snug as a bug!

What do you value? Get to know the Eyes4Everest team

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What do you value? Get to know the Eyes4Everest team

Written by Celine Zhang

The Suspension Bridge to Namche Bazarr 

The Suspension Bridge to Namche Bazarr 

Last Tuesday, the Eyes4Everest Committee gathered to chat about why we do what we do. Everything worth doing takes a lot of hard work, grit and determination - whether it be climbing a mountain, achieving new personal goals or crafting new trips and teams for our Eyes4Everest mission. Shaun let me know in a recent email that he was “working really hard, like possessed like a crazy person hard”.

Your values are what matter most to you. They can morph and change with time and experience.

They act as a compass to determine if something will be a good fit in your life. They are like a navigation system, guiding and leading us.

Our values gives us purpose in what we do.

We posed these questions to each other and we all had something different to share. Our answers have been shortened for easy reading.

 

What are your values?

  • Shaun: Using my time wisely to do the things I enjoy.

  • Jenny: Maintaining good health and making life simpler.

  • Joe: I enjoy teaching and practicing optometry, as well as building relationships.

  • Grace: Compassion - helping others within your means even if they can’t return the favour, Empathy - trying to be less selfish, Integrity - being able to do right by yourself and others

  • Celine: Optimism and making sure everyone is happy and taken care of

 

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

  • Shaun: Trekking around the world, climbing a few peaks and if God willing, be good enough to climb Everest. Spreading E4E to other mountain communities in need of primary eyecare

  • Celine: Married with children and growing my knowledge of optometry. I’d love to help create systems to deliver efficient paediatric eyecare.

  • Jenny: I’d like to simplify my possessions and take care of family and people I care about.

  • Joe: Practicing optometry, teaching, and maybe raising a family.

  • Grace: Working towards being financially free so I can pursue my passions, be flexible with my time and help others.  

2017 Team at Everest Base Camp

2017 Team at Everest Base Camp

What are the intrinsic motivators that wake you up in the morning?

  • Shaun: Awareness that time is ticking. If I do not plan and act now, I will deny myself the life I want in the future. Knowing everything I do with E4E and Behavioural Optometry is an expression of my values and beliefs.

  • Celine: A great cup of tea, my dog and the great people around me

  • Jenny: Morning runs set a great tone for the rest of my day. I want to travel more so it is important to keep fit.

  • Joe: To do good in world and do my job well.

  • Grace: I like to be an achiever. I get up in the morning, see what needs to be done and do it. Thinking positive.

 

What do you think is missing in your lives and the lives of people these days? 

  • Shaun: People have made themselves too busy to appreciate what they have. They are unhappy and buy things, which only give them a temporary buzz

  • Celine: Meaningful face-to-face human connection. Technology has permeated our lives. Sometimes we just need to step back and acknowledge each other without the interruption of checking or phones or computers. This is one of the reasons I love to hike - no cell connection = no Facebook browsing

  • Jenny: Heart to heart connection. It’s harder for people to build deep relationships. These things used to happen spontaneously but we are more distracted these days.  People don’t show their true selves anymore.

  • Joe: Purpose. I feel automation is a reason why people can’t see value in what they do. A certain listlessness and disengagement seems to arise from that.

  • Grace: Compassion is the key to connecting with others. We need to help each other to bring joy to ourselves. Connection is more important than being right. Optometrists are looking for values in the profession and give back to community who need it most.  

 

What are Eyes4Everest’s values to you?

  • Celine: Service to others, compassion and the spirit of adventure

  • Jenny: Sustainability is the basis of leaving a legacy. Otherwise it’ll die

  • Joe: Purpose and Simplicity. Your life is simplified to completing a mission and climbing a mountain.

  • Grace: Like my values. All of us believe in compassion and integrity.

Patients waiting to be tested at Monjo 

Patients waiting to be tested at Monjo 

 

Eyes4Everest is about...

 

Treating Preventable Blindness by delivering primary eyecare
Contributing your skills and your heart to enrich the lives of others
Create sustainable eyecare involving Sherpa or Nepalese optometrists
The spirit of adventure to discover what one is physically and mentally capable
 

Our work in E4E is an expression of who we are and what we value. We sow the seeds of time and effort so we can grow our efforts to provide primary eyecare to the mountain communities in Nepal. We nurture sustainability by working with Nepalese optometrists.

What are your values? Maybe we can’t live our values out 100% of the time, but we all plan to try.

Join us on a journey to create sustainable eyecare in  Nepal =D

We’re always so grateful for volunteers. 

 

Our Current Committee (August 2018)

  • Vice President Operations and Marketing: Shaun Chang
  • Director of Finance: Grace Wee
  • Director of Administration: Jenny Hsieh
  • Lead Generation Manager: Celine Zhang
  • Lead Conversion Manager: Joe Wang
  • Marketing Strategies Manager: Tali Weinberg
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ABC volunteer, E4E committee - Jenny Hsieh

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ABC volunteer, E4E committee - Jenny Hsieh

Written by Jenny Hsieh

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Jenny had been with Eyes4Everest since before it all began in 2014. It was only a small team of four consisting of three optometrists and one pharmacist. Today, she is still a committee member of E4E but the organisation had grown a lot since then!

Jenny graduated from Queensland University of Technology in 2004 and completed her therapeutics training in 2008. She worked for OPSM for four years after she graduated and then spent a few years doing locum work throughout Australia. She is now based in Brisbane. During the years of locuming she enjoyed traveling and seeing the world. It was when she was backpacking through South East Asia that she experienced the difficult living conditions of those in remote regions, and felt the need to give back. She went on to volunteer in Vietnam Vision Project, worked with Brien Holden vision in central Australia and then joined Eyes4Everest. She had been to Nepal twice now with Eyes4Everest and would highly recommend anyone interested to give it a go! Jenny is going to be in the Annapurna Base Camp team this year and she is looking forward to working with all the wonderful volunteers!

 

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EBC Volunteer - Jacqueline Duong

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EBC Volunteer - Jacqueline Duong

Posted by Jenny Hsieh

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Welcome Jacqui to our 2018 EBC team! 

Here is a little bit about Jacqui in her own words: 

"Hi, I’m Jacqui! I graduated from Deakin University in 2015 and currently locum across regional Australia in both private and community practices. I find travelling is a great way to learn about new cultures, its people and cuisine.

Early this year I volunteered in the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea, performing sight tests and educating villagers about general eye health and vision care. This has been a humbling and rewarding experience, being able to serve the people of PNG with my skills and knowledge. 

I am excited about the challenges of trekking in Nepal and look forward to assisting the Nepalese community". 

 

 

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EBC Volunteer - Ashleigh Wong

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EBC Volunteer - Ashleigh Wong

Posted by Jenny Hsieh

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We are greatful to have Ashleigh join us to the Everest Base Camp this year!

Ashleigh is a Canberran optometrist who graduated from Deakin University in 2017. Since she was a little girl, Ashleigh has had a passion for volunteering and helping out where there is a need. In 2014, she volunteered at an orphanage in Sri Lanka and assisted in paediatric medical screenings in the remote villages – this was where her eyes were opened to the need for eye care and her love of optometry began.  To be able to bring this passion and her optometry skills to communities with limited access to eye care, and to combine this with her love of hiking, is a dream come true. 

 

 

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Our First Ever Podcast

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Our First Ever Podcast

Our volunteers have asked and we have delivered. I sit down with co-founder Carina Trinh and Vice President Joe Wang to go through questions you have about our trip. 

  1. Logistic Brochure - Have you gone through it? Carina go through the importance of doing your homework. 
  2. What we wished we bought on our first trip
  3. Hot Showers everyday? Now that's luxury  
  4. How much Diamox should one take? 
  5. Packing slim 
  6. The weather - is October a good time to travel? 

Disclosure: The advice we provide is general information based on our experience. We encourage all current and future volunteers to do their own research. 

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ABC Volunteer - Wendy Berlecky

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ABC Volunteer - Wendy Berlecky

Posted by Jenny Hsieh

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Meet Wendy who loves the great outdoors and has a passion for voluntary work!

Graduating for UNSW in 1983, Wendy accepted a contract to establish the first full time Optometry practice on Norfolk Island. She returned to Sydney and began work with the Royal Blind Society, establishing the first mobile Low Vision Clinic in NSW. This involved a lot of country travel from the Victorian border to the Queensland border. Since then she has established and worked in four of her own private practices (only two at a time thankfully) before selling them all to spend more time with her family. She has been married for 33 years and has two adult children who are both studying at Uni.

Over the years Wendy has done a lot of voluntary work through the schools and through Scouts. She has gained her Outdoor Recreation qualifications and is a guide for bushwalking, canoeing, kayaking and sailing. These days Wendy does country locum work as well as organizing regular outdoor activities.

The opportunity to attend the mission to Annapurna seemed a perfect combination for her to combine her desire to help others and her love of the outdoors and hiking.

 

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