Volunteering for Equal Health's India 2012 Camp, opened Optometrist Helen Keen's eyes to poverty

As an optometrist I always thought volunteering is something I would like to do. My children are now at an age I can do this. Before the trip I was looking forward to helping the blind see, seeing how the whole thing works - how India 'ticks' and Equal Health 'ticks'.

Paul Clarke had been 'nagging' me for awhile to volunteer with Equal Health and so since he was the most persistent person I had contact with when I had the opportunity I decided to go with Equal Health. I also thought Equal Health had been organising volunteer trips for so long they must know what they are doing.

Upon arrival in India, I found it to be very noisy and chaotic in a non-aggressive way .The camp situation was fine and about what I expected. We were made very welcome and they looked after us really well. The Indian food was great!

The highlight of volunteering in India was helping all the people, especially the very poor widows. It was an honour to be able to make someone see and make their work more comfortable. It gave them a better of quality of life because it enabled them to work without developing a massive headache. I also saw many tailors who needed reading/sewing glasses and it was good to be able to help them earn their living and provide for their families.

One of the differences I noticed in working in India was that I didn't need to be 'nice' like I am in Australia as no one was buying my product - everyone in India knew what I could offer them and almost without fail appreciated being able to see. I tried to work as quickly as I could so we could see everyone, and get them out of the heat. Some people in Adelaide don't want to see and do not value vision much. I have also seen more disease and injuries in India than in Adelaide.

In contrast, there was a lovely widow in Poopahah (pictured left in the photo) who had had surgery previously to remove cataracts and did not have her lenses replaced. She also had no glasses so she was blind. When I gave her some +13.00s glasses she was so delighted she wanted to kiss my feet. Naturally, I didn't let her, but it was a great delight to see the absolute joy on her face.

The other people who stood out were the people with white cataracts which you never see in Australia but if you put -3.oo glasses in front of them then they could see enough to function alright.

Personally, I am more aware of what is important to spend my money on, and what isn't important, in terms of things I own (or don't own). There are a lot of things I don't need. I also value my family and the support service available in Australia if life is a bit tough for us.

If you are thinking about volunteering ... definitely go and offer your services because everyone deserves to see. You will also learn to appreciate all we have here in Australia, and to learn to appreciate the wonders of our health, education and welfare systems, despite their failures.

Helen Keen ­- Optometrist, Adelaide Eyecare, Adelaide, South Australia