2021 Vision: Tzu Chi’s Mobile Clinic Brings Optometry Services to Students

New York Mobile Clinic  |  February 15, 2022
Students received free vision screenings by optometrists from Tzu Chi’s Mobile Vision Clinic. Many of the students were determined to need glasses and received free pairs from the volunteers. PHOTO: Pin Hau Chiou

Written by Pin Hau Chiou, Tun Lin
Translated by H.B. Qing
Edited by Maggie Morgan

Remember how difficult it was to be a kid sometimes? Part of growing up is learning how to navigate the ever-changing social scene at school. We want to embrace our differences but still somehow “fit in.” We have that nagging voice that constantly compares us to our classmates but we crave acceptance for who we are. 

Many of us once felt this way on the inside, but what about things on the outside that set us apart? Needing braces or having poor eyesight can be one of the most challenging aspects of growing into ourselves. Students can be faced with unnecessary ridicule for needing to wear glasses or even more unfortunate, they can’t afford to get glasses at all. Not having access to vision care can be a direct cause of students falling behind and feeling inferior to their classmates. 

In their mission to conquer all struggles big and small, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation did not want to turn a blind eye to this problem. On October 20, 2021, our DaAi Vision Mobile Clinic’s van pulled up to Walter Francis Bishop Elementary School in Brooklyn, New York. Tzu Chi volunteers unloaded the equipment and set up an impromptu eye doctor right in the classroom; it turned out the team was a sight for sore eyes.

The school’s street sign reads “The future starts here”  and the statement could not have been more apt for the day’s events. Findings report that one in three students haven’t had an eye exam, and up to 75% of school screenings miss key issues. Tzu Chi Medical’s progressive initiatives, like the DaAi Vision Mobile Clinic, tackle these obstacles efficiently; we strive to bring progressive, modern solutions to what should become problems of the past.

Seeing The Difference

Students at Walter Francis Bishop Elementary School had their eyes examined and received free glasses from the DaAi Vision Mobile Clinic.

The post-epidemic era holds even more ophthalmology issues than existed before. As schools have reopened, it has become clear that students’ eyesight has not been a priority. Even before government shutdowns, school closings, and at-home learning, PEW Research Center reported that 71% of parents surveyed said they were concerned about their childrens’ screen-time; that number must be even more astounding now. 

Many kids have seen their vision deteriorate due to increased screen-time as a result of remote learning; the condition is called “computer vision syndrome” or “digital eye strain”. Some signs of impaired vision that might be reported are “headaches, blurred vision, muscle strain, eye rubbing, excessive tearing, unaligned pupils, a wandering eye, or a pupil that can appear milky or clear in a photo.” Not only are students missing free eye exams at school, but the alternative learning option has forced them to stress their sight out at home.

The DaAi Vision Mobile Clinic makes house calls in New York and has returned to school campuses as children have begun in person classes again. Our clinic focuses on assisting schools with providing disadvantaged students with eye exams and glasses matching services. There were mixed reviews from the school-age children on what they thought about having their eyes upgraded. 

Ariana, a third-grade elementary school student, excitedly remarked:

I like to have glasses because I can see better… it also makes me happy because I don’t have to go up to the board and see anymore, I can just see from my desk easily.

Other students were still warming up to the idea of having to wear a second pair of eyes. A young girl commented on her apprehension:

I may wear [glasses] sometimes in class. I feel awkward wearing them in class because I feel like I will get embarrassed and kids will be laughing at me.

Even if there are still some growing pains to work out, the service that Tzu Chi and its DaAi Vision Mobile Clinic practitioners offer is truly important work. Students who may not have the support and resources at home are able to access vision care that they need to perform to the best of their ability at school. 

Children who may be reluctant to wear glasses have a first hand experience with their classmates getting excited about the eyewear, making it less of a “shameful” necessity. Free eye exams at school aren’t always as reliable as getting the opinion of a professional eye doctor, and some parents are not able to provide proper assistance to their children. 

Educators were impressed with the innovative event saying:

By being able to get their vision tested at no cost to their families and being able to get glasses all in the same day- it’s a beautiful thing that I’m so very appreciative of.

More than a dozen volunteers arrived at the primary school early in the morning to provide optometry service for poor children. Photo by Pin Hau Chiou

A Beautiful View

On that October day, 18 students had their vision checked and 13 of them were prescribed glasses. Watching this life-changing event made it clear that Tzu Chi Medical and its volunteers were setting the bar high, bringing compassion to a new level, and offering the gift of sight to children who might never have received it. This is just the beginning of what the DaAi Vision Mobile Clinic has in store and our team will remain steadfast in delivering these resources to young minds across the globe. DaAi Vision Care, staying aligned with the Tzu Chi Foundation’s mission, opens up a student’s windows to their soul. The emotional and spiritual healing that comes with clear vision and a healthy state of mind is remarkably important to the welfare of a child.

Richard Yang, a doctor of the Tzu Chi USA Medical Association, stated: “We will continue. If a school will have us, we will help students with the work of providing glasses.”

Some students have their eyesight corrected for the first time in their lives. Photo by: Pin Hau Chiou

The school’s principal, Tiffany Hicks, encompassed why this service is life-changing for her students on every level.

This can help those students with poor eyesight, because they can't read learning materials which makes them struggle in reading. With free vision check, students don’t have to ask their families for money to pay, and they can get new glasses on the same day. I am very grateful for such a wonderful thing.

Help give miracles like the gift of sight to students around the world.