Travelling and seeing the world didn’t seem enough to Frances and Paul. They wanted to give something back to the friendly locals they met on their journeys and now they are cruising with a cabin full of eye glasses.
Travelling is fun and broadens your horizons, and those who dare venture outside the usual tourist areas often get an insight into the lives of locals beyond the clichés of sun, beaches and the glittering sea. Unfortunately this glimpse behind the facade often shows unattractive truths, as many of the popular tourist destinations are located in developing countries. Many travelers think something should be done, but it seems impossible to actively intervene in the problems of a foreign country, so it’s easier to look away and hope that somebody else with deal with it.
Paul and Frances Tudor-Stack decided not to look away, but to contribute their part to improve the lives of people in the countries they visit. In remote regions they had noticed how many people stumble through their lives without eyeglasses. When they started cruising, in 2008, they didn’t just stock up the boat with provisions, but also with second-hand eyeglasses. Visiting an ophthalmologist is routine for people in the first world, but many people in remote places have no access to medical help and spectacles are either not available, or unaffordable.
Since the beginning of their journey the Australian couple have distributed 7000 spectacles in 12 countries throughout Asia, Oceania and Central America. After dropping the hook of their boat Monkey Fist they usually contact the mayor, chief or whoever seems in charge, ask for permission and a room to set up their equipment and soon after people start flocking in to have their eyesight tested and to receive free glasses.
We met the two Australians in Tahiti, where they set up their ‘office’ at the back of the Tahiti Yacht Club and spent a week developing a homepage for their next project. Until 2018, they plan to collect ten thousand spectacles in cooperation with the Lions Club Recycle For Sight Program and get funding for a journey to the Solomon islands.
WHY THE SOLOMON ISLANDS?
The tropical island state northeast of Australia is one of the poorest countries in Oceania. Even though it features many attractions like sandy beaches, coral reefs, forested mountains, waterfalls and an interesting culture, hardly any tourists dare to visit after ethnical conflicts in the late 1990s. While foreign companies deforest the country and mine for natural resources, most locals live as subsistence farmers and fishermen.
The infrastructure was affected during the ethnic violence and further damaged by two earthquakes and ensuing tsunamis in 2007 and 2013. Transport is complicated by the fact that the island chain extends out over 900 miles.
WHY A SAILBOAT?
Transporting ten thousand spectacles and charts by plane would be costly, inter-island flights and accommodation (if available) would add to the expense. A sailboat is the perfect means of transport to reach remote areas and to spend time there, while the news spreads and people arrive to have their eyesight checked. Additionally, Frances and Paul are planning to travel inland to even more remote villages. Their 43-foot Jeanneau offers space enough to store the eye glasses and additional equipment.
Fitting people with glasses is relatively simple compared to other medical services and can be done by an amateur. Of course, the result may not be as perfect as when determined by an ophthalmologist or an optician, but every improvement to one’s vision enhances the quality of life for a very shortsighted or farsighted person. Glasses not only make it easier for people to read they help in hundreds of other daily activities like sewing, mending nets, carving, knitting, etc., all jobs requiring keen eyesight.
We asked Frances and Paul about their experiences around the Pacific and were fascinated. While other yachts might be viewed suspiciously or as possible sources of income, Monkey Fist is made welcome wherever they sail. The people appreciate the help they get, the cruising couple are integrated into village life and made guests of honor at festivities.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Frances explained. “The people who have donated their old spectacles, the volunteers who recycle the glasses, the people who receive them, and us when we see the smile on their faces. We are all winners.”
Paul added, “We have fitted glasses to elderly people who haven’t been able to read for 20 years and to young people who have dropped out of school because they can no longer see the blackboard or read a text book, a situation that we who live in the western world cannot envisage.”
For more info and the chance to donate, please visit: www.eyeglassassist.org
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and their ship’s cat Leeloo set sail towards the horizon in June 2011 on their yacht Pitufa. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at