Optometrist and co-founder of Foureyes Foundation Ravi Dass from Wellington is a man on a mission. His aim is to help Kiwi kids by removing barriers to eye care.
Around four years ago Ravi started the Foureyes Foundation with a single goal; to help Kiwi kids by removing barriers to eye care. He does this by running clinics in communities that need them the most - providing free vision screening, eye testing, and glasses to kids who need them.
The approach is simple Foureyes Foundation goes into Kiwi schools and runs vision screening for all kids - this is the best way to reach children and teens who may have slipped through the gaps. They are then able to access eye testing at a supportive local medical centre.
He is December’s well deserving Dell Change Maker. Dell and The Project have been recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign.
Dass says through his work as an optometrist he noticed this social issue, and thought he could give it a go and do something about it.
“We want to identify kids that need our help. It may seem like it’s in the ‘too hard basket’ but we needed to take the plunge and try to make it work,” he says. “I guess it’s your number eight wire approach, and I feel someone needed to do it.”
“But we couldn’t have done it without the support of the schools, Matt Colville the learning support coordinator who pushed for this, through to the Eye Institute who has funded our Dargaville initiative.”
Dargaville is the first clinic outside the Wellington region where Dass is based. “Dargaville has been a stepping stone for us. It shows we can replicate this in other areas of need, and achieve more of a national reach,” Dass says.
“The first year we were set up we found there was a definite need, the next three years have been about creating a package that works, and next year we want to roll out the programme nationally.”
“The next steps will be to establish our own ‘Four Eyes Foundation’ optometry clinic where adults who get an eye test and choose glasses can directly support local children’s eye care. This way we’ll be feeding directly, or paying it forward, into local communities.”
And research shows the need is definitely there. Approximately one in 10 NZ kids are struggling in school due to poor eyesight.
Dass says he has seen kids who were struggling with their reading benefit hugely from weak reading glasses. He’s come across “naughty children” who just needed glasses so they could see the whiteboard. He has also encountered young men and women in their late teens and early twenties who have gone through their whole school lives struggling with school work and believing they weren’t smart enough when all they may have needed is a pair of glasses.
“We see the improvement when the kids come back for follow up appointments, and the parents tell us their kids are doing better at school.”
As of 2020, the foundation has worked with 47 schools and has screened more than 5000 Kiwi kids. Because of their work, 400 Kiwi kids have had their eye issues picked up early and are now rocking free glasses that allow them to enjoy their childhood.
Dass points out technology is constantly changing and progressing. “We’ve taken a different approach, and have a portable machine which we can take around to check prescriptions for kids. This way we’re not replicating what’s currently available.”
Dass uses a crucial key piece of technology called a PlusOptix to mass test children's eyesight in the school's he visits. The machine is an auto-refractor and it gives him an idea of a child's needed prescription.
The testing is able to give an idea if a child's eyesight is normal for their age, and whether they should be referred to have a full eye test. Referrals are usually 15% of the entire school (it was 19% for recent Dargaville trip)
Dass says his use of the machine in this way (mass testing) is unique in NZ, and that [at the most] he could see about 350-400 children per day. This technology also allows him to provide this essential service to schools in a way that isn't disruptive or time consuming.
Full eye tests are needed for these kids as we look into family history, any other issues that might be affecting learning, health, and also a more accurate assessment of their prescription. The PlusOptix isn't 100% accurate so not all these kids will need glasses.
Dass recently ran an eye testing day in Dargaville Medical, and will continue to provide this every month for the next six months - eye tests and glasses are at no cost to the families.
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