Q. Tell us how the idea for the Foureyes Foundation came about…
A. I was working for an optometry practice and saw a young adult who had somehow slipped through the cracks. He was about 18 and a high school drop-out. He had struggled to focus and concentrate at school, and thought he was no good at schoolwork. It turned out he was far-sighted (meaning his eyes struggled to focus on closer objects). Because his vision wasn’t blurry (his eyes could focus, it just took more effort), it hadn’t ever been picked up before.
He got glasses after seeing me, which would have undoubtedly helped him in the future – but earlier intervention would’ve made far more of a difference for him. It was at that point I started thinking about what I could do to help improve how we identify and treat children with eyesight issues.
Q. Your life is pretty busy, with a business and young family. What motivates you to then spend any spare time you have volunteering for the Foundation and these clinics?
A. Once I started thinking about this problem – and how I could help solve it – it just seemed like something I needed to do. Some problems are really complex and hard to solve, but in this case we know what the issue is: children not getting the help they need to see clearly (and thrive at school). We also know what the solutions are: give schools and parents the tools to identify vision problems, get kids eyes tested, and get glasses to those who need them. Knowing that I can help with the solution is really what motivates me.
Q. What have the biggest challenges been?
A. So while I felt like I knew what the problems – and the solutions – were, it turns out there are always more details that need to be worked through and figured out! It has been a real learn-as-I-go process because I am the type of person who tends to throw themself at something. I have learned heaps about the schools and communities we’re working with and some of the challenges and struggles they face. I started off just focused on getting glasses to kids, but I’ve moved more and more towards a holistic approach, working as part of an integrated medical team in the low-cost clinics where I have my optometry clinics. I have seen first-hand just how hard the staff work to get people the care that they need and that has been a real eye-opener for me.
Q. And the biggest wins?
A. The impact – getting kids in the door and providing glasses to them. It is really nice to hear kids are doing well in school after getting glasses. It’s also a bit of a kick when you hear how excited some of the kids are about me coming to the school for a vision screening, or if they find out they are going to get some glasses! It didn’t use to be that way!)
Q. You’ve also helped overseas as a volunteer optometrist – tell us about that. (Use photos of him in Fiji)
A. I did my first overseas trip while at uni – it was in 2003 and it was a tipping point for me. I was doing this trip with a great team around me, back in Fiji where I was born, and it felt so rewarding to be helping people there because the need was so clear. It made me realise how much I valued helping people, and that I needed to work that into my career and my life. From then, I pretty much did a volunteer trip in the Pacific every year up until I started the Foureyes Foundation.
Q. What is your dream for the Foureyes Foundation?
A. In the short-term, I’m keen to build a team so we can have more impact around Wellington and on a national scale. The bigger picture is to work alongside other organisations with a similar goal of addressing the issues around vision and education – there are lots of fantastic organisations that are pieces to a puzzle (like us), and it would be great if we could all slot together to create a more robust solution to this issue, right across the country. A major part of that for me is giving teachers and parents the tools to identify vision problems in children, and the knowledge that there are people who can help solve the problems.
Q. Have you got any favourite stories/cases you could share with us?
A. When kids just assume my last name is Foureyes, ‘’Hey it’s Dr. Foureyes” – that’s pretty funny. And when I get cards drawn by them – I have one that is a bear with glasses at my desk at home.
Q. At what point will you sit back and think, “Job done”?
A. Ha, when I run out of space for all the drawings from kids… Chances are they will probably be digital drawings by then so I guess I possibly never! But hopefully I will have made a decent dent to the issues and people are well set up for the future.