The team would often set up shop on the side of the road to test eyes and distribute the glasses.
The team would often set up shop on the side of the road to test eyes and distribute the glasses. Contributed

Rotarian brings sight to disadvantaged South Africans

THEY say the gift of sight is one of the best you can receive, which is surely a statement Charmaine Wheatley and her tireless team of Coast volunteers can confirm.

Earlier this year, Ms Wheatley travelled to South Africa on one of her regular humanitarian trips, this time distributing 1750 pairs of glasses to disadvantaged people who otherwise could not have accessed optometry aid.

Their eye-testing facilities were far from sophisticated with the team often setting up on the side of dusty roads with cardboard boxes full of spectacles, categorised by prescription by volunteers and handed out according to their companion optometrists' directions.

One day, the Mooloolaba rotarian recalled, when they had established their rudimentary optometry centre in a community hall, more than 680 people turned out to have their eyes tested.

"Some people had queued for three days, and were fainting because of the heat and exhaustion,” she said.

Although the expedition was tiring, Ms Wheatley said the joy which came from personally witnessing the reactions of people who were, often for the first time in years, able to see things close-up or far away kept them going.

"There was one 10-year-old girl who, when we put the glasses on her, jumped back,” she said.

"She had never seen the leaves on the trees before from a distance.

"Another couple, I'll never forget, he put the glasses on and looked at his wife and said 'Darling, you have never looked so beautiful', and she put hers on and said to him 'Oh, you look so handsome'.

"And the teenagers, they were just so grateful to be able to read their SMS messages, that's all they wanted to see, to read their SMS' and their bibles.”

Not one to sit still for long, the South African-Australian national is now organising her 2017 trip which has already attracted a donation of 10,000 spectacles and 300 walking sticks.

"But what we really need is optometrists to come with us,” she said.

Ms Wheatley will host an information night on behalf of the Mooloolaba Rotary in anticipation of the next expedition on November 14.

Anyone interested should contact the Mooloolaba Rotary Club for more information.