A million sparkles of reflected light astonish one’s eyes upon entering the room. Countless boxes filled with a breathtaking number of eye glasses are neatly stacked, ready to be delievered to the needy.
Hug for Vision is the pioneering volunteer group that first started donating glasses in Korea. The group’s main task is to receive old glasses donated for those in need, and recycle them through the willing support of financial and technical institutions and eye care centers. The beneficiaries are often the poor and marginalized elders and students from countries in Asia and Africa whose chances of earning an education and a living are greatly impeded by poor vision.
Jang Kyung-jin (Yonsei University, 2) founded the organization as a high school student club in 2008, and since then has expanded its influence, officially becoming a corporate body in 2011. With its new status, it now operates independently, not relying on other institutions.
“With our new title, we now directly contact the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and supportive institutions and carry out the business all by ourselves,” Jang said. “I am astonished to see how the once small group I founded has grown in just four years.”
In fact, the group has grown from consisting only of a few high school students in its initial stage to 25 selected college students as managers from 14 different universities today, including Ewha, Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University.
With the ultimate goal not only to improve vision, but also to offer vision for life to as many struggling people as possible, the group has reached out to numerous NGOs in Asian and African regions, including Mongolia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Ghana. Also advocating the cause, institutions such as the Korean Optometric Association have joined the donating business.
To provide the most effective help possible, the group requests accurate statistics on the locals’ eyesight problems in advance and orders quantities of lenses accordingly. Reading glasse are provided in bulk to a country’s local Hug for Vision office for the citizens to freely access them.
“We usually send 300 to 600 glasses per country,” Jang said. “Elderly women, mostly in the Middle East who earn a living by sewing expressed gratitude for being able to work more productively, as did students for being able to continue studying with better vision.”
One of the volunteers’ biggest concerns is to obtain accurate statistics on how much help is needed in the beneficiary countries. In a recent case, members, despite financial and geographical obstacles, looked for alternative ways to accomplish their goal and finally found an institution that provided financial support. With the money obtained, the group was able to carry out a business trip to Cambodia and obtain knowledge on the current situation.
“The business trip proved to be most essential as we realized that most of the locals had little knowledge or understanding of how to use glasses,” Kim In-young (Baewha Women’s University, 2), one of the managers said. “We have also found out that the local NGOs were not supportive enough and did not put much effort into improving the locals’ vision. We immediately realized how serious the situation was and that our help is crucial.”
According to the World Health Organization’s statistics, approximately 150 million people suffer from uncorrected visual impairment. Another report elaborates that the majority of students from Asia and Africa suffer from nearsightedness, and 94 percent of elders from presbyopia, farsightedness due to aging.
With a strong vision and will for a better world in which fewer suffer from impaired eyesight, the members are committed to doing their share in the business. Weekly meetings are held in available university classrooms to review or report on weekly activities and discuss future plans.
President Jang and members confidently predict a highly positive future for Hug for Vision.
“It is a valuable and meaningful experience to be a part of this organization,” Lee Jin (Soongsil University, 2) said. “Just as eagles cannot immediately take off and fly but then do ever so beautifully and powerfully after they have risen into the air, Hug for Vision will spread its wings to show its true value and expand its sphere of influence in the near future.”
Donating glasses to Hug for Vision can be arranged through Twitter, the official blog, and Facebook. For further information, refer to the homepage (http://www.hugforvision.org/).