Bringing Optometric Care to Impoverished Communities in Sri Lanka

Shreya Thayaparan is a junior at Leland High school. Two years ago, she started a project for which she collected glasses in my community, took them to Sri Lanka and with the Lions Club and the Rotary Club in Colombo to test and provide tea-factory workers with appropriate glasses.

The first person to receive an eye exam

Question 1 : How did you come up with this idea ?

I’ve had the need for glasses since kindergarten, and accidentally breaking them in 9th grade, going one day without them was incredibly difficult for me. That’s when I realized that people who aren’t as fortunate as we are here in the Silicon Valley often times don’t have access to proper eye care, whether it be financially, or even just a lack of knowledge.

As a Sri Lankan who cares very much for my country, I decided to try and help impoverished populations there that may not have proper vision care as a top priority since they value other things to spend money towards like food, shelter, etc. That's when I decided to reach out to organizations and collect glasses from people in my community.

Question 2: How did you spread the word amongst your community? What was the community response like?

In order to increase the amount of glasses that could be collected, I posted about the project on Facebook and I collected a few pairs through that. The second thing I did was send an email to the local Sri Lankan community, and collected quite a few that way. However, the most successful platform was Nextdoor, as the message reached nearly 2,000 homes in my area. The responses were almost instant, and so many people had so many pairs to give. This went on for 2 weeks, at which point I had to tell people I couldn’t take anymore since I had run out of space to take them in suitcases. The amount of support and glasses collected (250+) definitely surprised me and I’m thankful to everyone who supported.

Question 3 : What did you learn from this project? Have you discovered any new interests?

This project definitely taught me a lot, one of the biggest things being communication. Although I was a complete introvert, I had to learn how to go to homes and talk to a lot of people, which at first was very difficult for me. In addition to that, I had to learn how to communicate to different people in order to coordinate and plan the day we would hold the medical, which was especially difficult as it was going to be on the other side of the world. As for discovering new interests, I learned how much fun it was for me to do things like this, like getting my community involved, and it sparked my interest in ophthalmology as well when I researched the human eye.

Question 4 : Has this project opened up any new doors in your life?

Doing this project opened a pathway to many other things for me and although I’ve been doing this every year in the same month since then, I’ve also taken upon many other projects related to the welfare of the impoverished in Sri Lanka as well as a few local things here in the Bay Area.

Question 5: What was your favorite part about working on this project?

My favorite part about working on this project was when I got to meet the tea factory workers in Sri Lanka on the day the medical camp was held in Colombo.

I watched the employees being tested for their vision and it filled me with so much happiness that they finally could see in the way that they deserved to. Waking up early and driving a few hours to finally see that it was happening was entirely worth it and it was the best feeling I’ve ever had, and knowing that my community in Almaden was able to make that happen was truly amazing.

Question 6: What does this project’s future look like? What does your future look like as a change maker?

The first year I did it in the summer of 2018 was for the tea factory workers but since then, I’ve joined the non-profit “Peer2Peer Organization” and this past year the glasses went to young impoverished children in remote villages affected by the last war, of which many didn’t even know what glasses were; nearly 1000 students were tested, with over 200 having the need for glasses. With each year, we are focusing on expanding our reach to support others in need in Sri Lanka, and not just with glasses, but with other forms of aid as well (ex. Clean drinking water, education, support, etc.). As for my future, I hope to continue doing projects like this, even through college, and recently I’ve started doing things locally, so I hope to expand on that as well.

Question 7: What advice do you have for someone looking to start their own initiative to help others?

To anyone that wants to make any type of change in the world, I think the most important this is confidence, because if I had remained the same introvert I was before starting all of this, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

It’s also important to rely on other people help, because even though you want to do everything on your own, splitting up work results in better quality work. You have to remember that you aren’t doing a projects for yourself, you are doing it for the benefit of others.

That said, communication is crucial. If someone cont