Charity Begins At Home

I love this simple expression, it means so much. In effect, before we can begin to do any good for anyone else around us, we must first be willing to show compassion and kindness to those closest to us. For one thing, if we don’t have a strong foundation at home, any charitable work outside of the home is unsustainable. Second, we learn to be truly compassionate and kind to others through our experiences with family, then community. Finally, teaching the charity example at home means we build a bigger and stronger home team to tackle problems in the wider world.

Optometry Giving Sight Day is a national initiative to raise awareness about the importance of strong vision for life. The fact is that most people in the world who cannot work because of vision are not suffering from some rare disease or cataracts, they simply need appropriate glasses. The Optometry Giving Sight website, and some optometrists featured on local media, make reference to the many thousands of poor in underdeveloped countries and the fact that they cannot and will not become productive in their communities for lack of something so simple. This is absolutely true – strong vision is fundamental to quality of life, especially in academics.

… under served and underprivileged populations exist right in our own backyards, especially in isolated native communities… there are no committees or action groups in place to tackle the severe need of our own citizens.

It is also true that under served and underprivileged populations exist right in our own backyards, especially in isolated native communities. Optometry Giving Sight does not recognize this need, in fact, completely ignores it. Likewise, while provincial optometry associations, like the Alberta Association of Optometrists, promote events such as Optometry Giving Sight Day, there are no committees or action groups in place to tackle the severe need of our own citizens.

It’s politically incorrect to say vision care conditions on reserves are ‘third world’, but it’s hard to tell the difference when you look at the numbers.

The facts are that as many as 1 of 3 First Nations children suffer with significant visual impediments that mean they will struggle in school, or not be able to handle it at all. Even so, fewer than 5% of the total population in some areas ever get checked in a reasonable time frame. In other words, by the time they are checked, it’s too late. So, in a population of 200 children in a given reserve school, some 65 of them will need something in the way of glasses, but only 3 or 4 will ever get them. It’s politically incorrect to say vision care conditions on reserves are ‘third world’, but it’s hard to tell the difference when you look at the numbers.

Vision and health care on reserves is a hot potato issue, and in the end it’s almost completely ignored. On the one hand, it’s exceedingly difficult to deliver care to First Nations peoples for reasons of logistics and government red tape. At the same time, lack of education and the sense of imperative among school and health officials on reserves means that professional help is almost never requested, or supported when it is offered. One official on the Tsuu T’ina reserve, one of the wealthiest reserves around, told me straight out, and with no small amount of animosity and disdain, ‘our children don’t need eye care’ and the door was closed. We had a similar response from the Morley Reserve medical clinic, one of the most impoverished Nations around. Still, graduation rates on reserves, both rich and poor, is abysmal. There are many reasons for this and funding is not the issue; difficult vision is high on the list – this is not opinion, but sadly, hard clinical fact. Clearly more education is required at higher levels of local governments.

… Jacob Bearspaw school in Eden Valley, as well as elementary schools on the Siksika Nation have recognized the need and are taking active steps to work towards meaningful solutions on site… They are to be congratulated and supported in their efforts through all means possible.

On the flip side, Jacob Bearspaw school in Eden Valley, as well as elementary schools on the Siksika Nation have recognized the need and are taking active steps to work towards meaningful solutions on site, and we are happy to assist. They are to be congratulated and supported in their efforts through all means possible. For our part, we have also been able to cut some of the red tape with the provincial and federal governments to make delivery of such care easier. Hopefully more optometrists will pick up the mantle and reach out to these communities elsewhere.

Matthew 6:22

“The lamp of the body is the eye.

If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light;

but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness.

And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.”

Ideally, the Provincial, Federal, and reserve governments open their own eyes to the desperate need for vision care in these local communities and work with professionals and community officials to address the problem. Much more needs to be done. The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, founded by former Prime Minister Paul Martin, held a breakfast meeting in Calgary in August to raise awareness about the principle that only through education can we hope to raise the standard of living. I couldn’t agree more. If they are to have any impact, however, they must also engage health and education officials on all levels to ensure the basics of learning are in place. This means providing accessible vision care. In Canada, this is not simply a matter of charitable works, but one of basic human rights.

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