Seeing a difference: OUWB students collect eyeglasses for villagers in Sri Lanka
An image of the glasses and students involved in the drive
From left, Vincent Le, Rima Stepanian, and Dinasha Dahanayake - members of OUWB's OIG e-board - take time to pose for a photo in front of glasses collected for villagers in Sri Lanka.

An Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine student interest group recently collected more than 200 pairs of eyeglasses that were distributed at a vision clinic in Sri Lanka.

OUWB’s Ophthalmology Interest Group (OIG) led the late 2022 drive that repurposed unused pairs of eyeglasses from optometry and ophthalmology offices throughout southeast Michigan.

OIG representatives also asked their OUWB classmates to donate if they had any extra pairs of glasses.

“The response that we got was way more than we expected,” said Rima Stepanian, M2, president, OIG.

“When we were picking them up, some places had boxes and boxes. It was really cool seeing (how) when we had a need and reached out to the community, they responded.”

“A lot of the optometry and ophthalmology offices in the area have expressed a really big interest in seeing where the glasses were going,” said Vincent Le, M1 representative, OIG.

“A lot of these places said that they get a bunch of glasses every month and they just don't know what to do with them.”

‘Priority…to give back’

Connecting the glasses collected in southeast Michigan with Sri Lankan villagers was facilitated by Dinasha Dahanayake, M3.

Dahanayake, who is an immigrant from Sri Lanka, organized a vision clinic there for the second year in a row.

It’s all part of a mission she has to give back to the place she grew up.

“I’m always grateful that I was able to come to the U.S. and get a good education and be able to have all these resources, communities, and networks,” said Dahanayake. “It has always been a priority for me to give back to more underserved communities, whether that’s locally or globally.”

An image of a student prepping glasses for distribution
Dahanayake, who is an immigrant from Sri Lanka, organized a vision clinic there for the second year in a row.

Previously, glasses were bought with monies raised via fundraising. This year, she reached out to the executive board of OIG to collaborate.

Forrest Bohler, M1 representative, OIG, compiled a list of more than 30 potential sources.

In the following weeks, members of OIG would call the locations, ask if they had any glasses they could take, and pick them up from the store. In addition to what they gathered from the store, many of their classmates got involved and donated old glasses.

The clinic organized by Dahanayake was held on Dec. 26, 2022, at a temple in Sigiriya with assistance from local community members and ophthalmologists. To ensure a fair process, the organizers randomly selected 10 villagers from several districts throughout the country to meet at the location for a total of more than 270 attendees.

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Opticians conducted basic exams to find glasses that best fit the individual’s face and vision needs. If there wasn’t a pair with the prescription the person needed, the coordinators gave them a frame of their liking to be fitted with lenses at a discounted price at a local collaborating optician’s store.

In addition to the glasses, Dahanayake and her fellow coordinators gave away $500 worth of groceries to about 50 randomly-selected individuals.

Dahanayake said she hopes to hold a vision clinic each time she returns to Sri Lanka.

“A lot of people put the priority less on their health when food, water, and shelter is (scarce),” she said. “Their vision and their health deteriorate because of it. Being able to help in certain ways where they’re able to put that priority back onto their own health, which affects all domains of life…being able to contribute to that, in little ways, is always nice.”

‘Very, very excited’

Several OIG board members said the response to the drive made them hopeful for future events.

The organization has big plans for the future, too, including conducting their own vision screening in collaboration with at least one local nonprofit organization.

“(They have) a lot of people basically saying, ‘I don’t know where to get my eyes checked out. I have no resources,’” said Stepanian. “Even if they do find a place, there’s a barrier because of language.”

Overall, Stepanian said OIG members are “very, very excited.”

“Ophthalmology is a very small field and it’s kind of hard to get this training and experience early on,” she said. “We’re hoping to make this a lasting thing so that people who are interested can practice and gain some extra skills.”

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