March 04, 2014

Through the ORBIS Lens: A Mentor’s Guidance

“Through the ORBIS Lens” is a collection of photos showcasing the issues surrounding global eye health. Each week ORBIS will share our best photographs highlighting our efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness around the world. 



ORBIS Volunteer Faculty are very hands on, and oversee training programs for local doctors. Here, long time ORBIS Volunteer Faculty member and ocular plastics specialist Dr. Robert Kersten mentors a local doctor during a training program in Nepal.

Photo:  David Shaw/ORBIS

February 28, 2014

Through the ORBIS Lens: A Teacher’s Dedication

“Through the ORBIS Lens” is a collection of photos showcasing the issues surrounding global eye health. Each week ORBIS will share our best photographs highlighting our efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness around the world. 



Dr. Roberto Pineda gives a lecture after one of his teaching surgeries in Kolkata, India. The Kolkata training in September 2013 marked Dr. Pineda’s 10th as a Volunteer Faculty with ORBIS (his first was in 1998 to China!).We have amazing Volunteer Faculty!

Photo: Geoff Oliver Bugbee/ORBIS                     



December 08, 2011

The Great Ethiopian Run: Lasting Memories

Blog submitted by Charlotte Coleman-Smith

Charlotte Coleman-Smith is one of the 30,000 people who took part in Africa’s biggest road race –The Great Ethiopian Run, a challenging 10km at 10,000 feet above sea level.  She is part of the ORBIS Ireland team who took on this massive challenge in November. Charlotte shares with us her feelings after the race.

It's now a week since I arrived back from Addis. Last night, I was out with friends who were asking me about the Run. Above the noise of a busy restaurant, I found myself summing up the incredible trip. There were so many different threads to it that I struggled to weave them together into a coherent whole. In fact, each time I’m asked, I seem to come up with a new pattern, which is surely a reflection of the complexity of feeling that comes out of such an experience.

Great Ethiopian Run

First, of course, I tell them that it was brilliant, and one of the best things I’ve done. Then, to explain the hoarseness of my voice, I get sidetracked into discussing the intensity of the schedule and the packed programme we followed from the moment we landed. I might tell them about the traditional meal on the first night; watching the great Haile Gebrselassie dance the night before the Run; the Irish ambassador’s reception up in the hills; the final late night of clubbing in Addis and the two-hour sleep which came before the flight home. I’ll describe the great craic we all had as a group, and in our own little sub-sets (apparently, we were the ‘Yummy Mummies’. I like that).

But most of all, I want to get across to my friends the warmth of the welcome we found in Ethiopia, how worthwhile all of the training and fundraising felt as soon as we were touring the hospital and hearing from those who work in the field about the way the ORBIS money is spent. We were in Ethiopia for a very brief time, yet it was long enough to get a sense that this is an incredibly varied country, which is so much more than the sum of all the news stories of the past few decades.

Great Ethiopian Run 2

There’s incredible poverty and hardship – we saw this on every roadside, and particularly on the outskirts of Addis Ababa - but also a growing middle class, an economy that’s getting ever stronger, and a confidence and pride that shines out. This was very clear to me during the Run, as groups of friends, families and colleagues came together to celebrate the national sport, and simply to enjoy being who they are.

We, of course, were lucky enough to have a lot of fun while doing our bit for charity. This was, after all, predominantly an Irish group. Perhaps some might take issue with that. But in order to become ambassadors for ORBIS, I reckon it’s better for the participants to come home with a positive feeling about the country and people they are trying to help.

I would love to return and see more; perhaps travel south to the ORBIS projects. But even if I don’t, the trip to Addis Ababa of November 2011 will give me material for stories for a very long time. Perhaps these stories might persuade others to do their bit for ORBIS in years to come – if only so they can beat me at my own game!

August 09, 2010

Internship Visit to ORBIS

Blog submitted by Dillon Van Auken

Dillon Van Auken is a student from ACS International School, through ORBIS' partnership with ACS Dillon was selected to participate in an internship for that allows students to take part in an ORBIS program overseas. 

Today featured the commencement of ORBIS’s Da Nang program in the form of screening day, over which the ORBIS doctors (known as Volunteer Faculty or “VF’s”) examined around twenty-five patients to determine appropriate later treatment. 

As today was quite busy in preparation for the rest of the week, our job as interns was to mainly observe the doctors and identify prospective case-studies that we will be writing as the week goes on. Each of us went to certain specialty screening rooms, which included retinopathy, led by Dr Hampton; glaucoma, led by Dr Piltz-Seymour; and paediatrics, led by Dr Black. Gradually we moved in between rooms to grasp the wide array of ocular problems facing the local people and the subsequent treatment that they would be receiving from ORBIS.

Each doctor would examine the patients in front of several hands-on trainees, local doctors from Da Nang, other areas in Vietnam, and some from Cambodia and Laos. The doctor would examine the patient’s eyes with various instruments, whilst also explaining the observations to the hands-on trainees. It was truly amazing to watch the doctors do this, as they had to cope with actual treatment of a patient, teaching, and a language barrier all at once. Despite these tough requirements, each did so very calmly and efficiently.

After observing each patient, the doctors would decide whether to perform surgery on the Flying Eye Hospital, the Da Nang Eye Hospital, or to postpone surgery for local doctors to carry out at a later date. From each section, four patients were chosen to go to the Flying Eye Hospital, four were chosen to go the Da Nang Eye Hospital, and the rest were selected for later surgeries, although some did not require surgery at all.

ORBIS ACS Visit Da Nang 2010 Neha Lalani Dillon Van-Auken Jhenielle Reynolds Shaghigh Aryan (Westminster Academy) (7)So far, this trip has already been extremely moving and inspirational for me personally.  Observing the doctors today was one of the few times in my life where I have seen people be genuinely selfless and devoted to helping others.  Often, even in charity work, self-interest is still a major motivator, yet these doctors as well as the entire ORBIS staff are committed to genuine philanthropy. It was also very emotional to see the numerous patients, many of them children, with very severe eye conditions that could have been prevented with greater infrastructure and development. Yet, the sadness of their conditions is counteracted by the optimism that they will have treatment this week through the help of ORBIS. It will be great to see their progress at the hands of the wonderful ORBIS staff over the week.

June 17, 2010

Follow up with Bello from Niger

Blog Submitted by Amna Al-Gallas, MD

Amna is a Staff Ophthalmologist on board the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital. Amna joined the crew in February 2010.

It was the last day of my one-week return visit to Niger as I went back to follow up our patients who were operated on there, almost two months before, during our first Flying Eye Hospital program ever in Niger. It was another hot long working day that was only made easy by the smile of grateful patients whom I have examined as they tried to express how happy they were with the results. By the end of the day, I was informed that there were no more patients waiting and that some patients could not show up because they lived far away. I started to collect my papers and equipment but my mind was busy, as if something was missing and I decided to wait and use the time to do some paper work. Few moments later, a child came running to me. She was wearing a beautiful pink dress and a big smile on her face. She handed me a plastic bag with ORBIS logo on it and uttered few words in local language which I couldn’t understand. She opened the bag, took out a pair of glasses and put them on, I then recognized the little angel right away, “It’s you, Bello!” I said, smiling back at her.

Bello and Amna pose for picture
 Her mother came afterwards, apologizing for being late and expressing how happy and enthusiastic her daughter was to come. Bello was a 7-year old girl from Niger who came to ORBIS through our rural outreach screening program in Libore. At that time she had opacities in both eyes which largely compromised her vision. She underwent a certain laser procedure, to remove the opacities, and she was given specific type of glasses to help improve her vision. I examined her and she was doing very well with good improvement of vision. Her mother said that since the procedure her daughter was doing better in school and had good grades. She also said that Bello was always wearing her glasses and taking good care of them. After I finished and gave the mother the necessary instructions, Bello gave me a big hug and walked away with her mother, waving goodbye with a great big smile.

I gathered my things and walked out. I looked back at the patients as they were heading home. I was tired, starving and thirsty but I was filled with joy, knowing that another ORBIS mission has succeeded. All the hard work of ORBIS team has paid off and transformed lives in Niger, such as Bello’s, and gave them a new future, a new tomorrow!

See Bello's story below in our Eye Report from Niger.

June 08, 2010

Volcanic Ash Does Not Impair ORBIS Vision

Blog submitted by Lynn Donovan.

The April 2010 Volcano Eruption in Iceland had a massive effect on world travel. It essentially held people captive wherever they were in their travels for approximately 10 days. During this time, ORBIS had Hospital Based Programs scheduled in Africa, and China. I would like to share my story of the effect it had on the staff involved in the Kampala, Uganda Program.

On Saturday, April 10, 2010 Dr Grace Prakalapakorn, and I traveled from Kaduna, Nigeria to Lagos from there we were to go to separate locations. Dr Grace was to go home to Atlanta, Georgia in the US, and I was to go to Kampala, Uganda for another Hospital Based Program. Upon arrival to Lagos, Dr Grace found her flights to be canceled. This caused a dilemma, as she was not to stay in Lagos alone, especially when she was not certain how long it would be before she would be able to travel back to the US. After discussion it was decided the best option was for Dr Grace to travel to Kampala with me, as there would be a confirmed hotel room to rest, and adequate Internet access to plan future travel.

Image1 It was then discovered that Dr Bernadette Martinez was delayed on travel for the program and was still in China trying to reschedule flights to arrive in Kampala. Dr Gordon Douglas, the Volunteer Faculty Surgeon for the Kampala program, was delayed as well, as he had also been re routed. Both Dr Bernadette and Dr Douglas were to arrive Monday, the first day of the program- screening day, but in the afternoon and evening respectively.

After many e mails with our Medical Director, Dr Hunter Cherwek, it was decided that Dr Grace, Dr Jonathan Lord, and myself would go to Mulago Hospital to explain to the Trainee Staff Doctors, and the patients that arrived for screening, that due to circumstances from the Volcanic Ash the doctors scheduled to see them would not be able to do so until the next day. It was a good thing that Dr Grace was there and able to cover in Dr Bernadette’s absence.

When Monday evening came around Dr Douglas and Dr Bernadette had both safely arrived in Kampala. The program went on with screening day on Tuesday and one less surgical day, however all 10 surgeries were performed in the two surgical days and all aspects of the Kampala Hospital Based Program were accomplished. Dr Grace was finally able to travel on Wednesday via the long way home. This was a very memorable event for me as I am sure there are stories around the world of the Volcanic Ash influence on the lives of others.

ORBIS was able to provide much needed services even when a natural disaster had occurred, and once again through teamwork and determination to achieve the ORBIS mission and goals of “saving sight worldwide.”

May 26, 2010

First Time Volunteer

Blog submitted by Mr. John Brookes

Mr. Brookes is a volunteer ophthalmologist from the United Kingdom. This is Mr. Brookes first time volunteering with ORBIS.

Having just returned from my first ORBIS program in Dalian, China, I would like to thank the whole ORBIS team for making this an incredible personal and professional experience in my career to date.

I have been involved in several charities over the past 10 years; I try and spend at least 2 weeks each year doing some surgical work abroad and this has taken me to India, Palestine and Egypt on many occasions. Having received several invitations over the past two or three years to take part in an ORBIS program, in my specialty of pediatric glaucoma, I finally succumbed. Admittedly, because first of all, I’ve never visited China before but secondly, I have always been an airplane fanatic having obtained my private pilot’s license in 2004. I was obviously very excited therefore of combining my love of ophthalmology and my interest in all things airborne!

I was incredibly surprised however at the size of the city of Dalian when I eventually arrived. Having never heard of the city before, I expected something a little less enormous. The people were incredibly warm, generous and grateful for all that we were able to offer.

Dr Brookes outside the Flying Eye Hospital
I met my hands-on trainees on the screening day at the base hospital, He Eye Hospital. They were incredibly eager to learn with a constant stream of questions and never seemed bored with my endless lectures, videos and other teaching material.

Following the screening day, I spent the next two days at the base hospital with my hands-on trainees, carrying out glaucoma and cataract surgery on the patients we had identified on the screening day. I was however, extremely anxious to get onto the plane!

The fourth day arrived and I was at last going to board the iconic ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital at Dalian airport. From afar, I could see its majestic outline and the characteristic livery. Boarding the plane for the first time was a truly memorable experience. All my childhood dreams had come true. I sat in the captain’s seat and the maintenance engineer gave me a truly extensive tour of the plane, even going into the bowels of the plane beneath the cockpit and seeing the miles upon miles of electrical cables and wiring, which somehow get this plane in the air.

Setting my excitement aside I had to go into the operating theatre for my first experience of ‘live surgery’, broadcast to the 30 local doctors sitting next door in the lecture room. Fortunately, all went well with the surgery and I ended up quite enjoying myself.

The rest of the airplane was truly amazing; state of the art operating theatres, clinic space and audiovisual equipment we could only dream of at home! Overall, I had a wonderful experience as a medical volunteer and I would like to thank all the staff who organized these programs, which must require so much background work to have them running so smoothly.

Of course I would like to do another mission…..perhaps next time I could fly the plane?

Photo by Perry Athanason