Eyeglass Assist: Two Devoted Sailors and a Boatload of Spectacles
When most people retire they have dreams of relaxing on the beach or improving their golf game, but not Frances Tudor-Stack. She retired nine years ago from Darwin Rental Specialists and since that time Frances and her husband Paul have sailed throughout the Asia and Pacific regions dispensing much needed glasses to people living in remote communities that mainstream aid organisations cannot reach. They have also founded the not-for-profit organisation Eyeglass Assist.
So how did it begin?
Frances and Paul met on the seas off Singapore in 1982 and after moving back on to land in 1986 they always planned to return to the life they loved on the sea and in 2008 they did so but they felt their travelling needed a purpose. In Indonesia some years previously, when they were being escorted around a traditional village by a young girl who spoke English, Frances noticed an old lady sitting in her doorway and asked if they could take her photo, which she did. She then went to show the lady the LCD screen on her camera and the lady threw her hands up in the air and told the young girl that she couldn’t see and went on to say that she hadn’t been able to see for a long time. Frances took off her glasses and handed them to the lady who was then able to see the photo and said “that’s astonishing”. It was a moment they have never forgotten and so carrying a supply of spectacles on board seemed like it might be worth considering because they would potentially be a huge benefit to people living in isolated communities and they also had the benefit of being light and portable.
They believe everybody, no matter where they live and regardless of their financial situation, should have the right to clear vision and to allow them to do this they have been able to to source their glasses from various Recycle For Sight branches around the Pacific rim. Frances and Paul conduct a basic non-invasive vision screen, carried out by comparing different strength glasses, similar to how the general public can purchase a pair of spectacles in any pharmacy or $2 shop anywhere in the world. Since their departure they have conducted Eyeglass Assist clinics in 13 countries and have provided nearly 8,000 pairs of spectacles plus sunglasses to those in need without cost or obligation. People living in developed countries regularly reach for their glasses on a daily basis, never giving it a second thought. Imagine if you went to grab your eyeglasses and they weren’t there. Think about how hard it would be trying to read, write, sew or find small objects without your spectacles. That is what many people living in the developing world struggle with everyday.
After the first two years of travelling they were loving the lifestyle and with the project being a huge success they decided a slightly larger boat with better sailing performance.. They purchased a 13 metre 2001 Jeanneau 43DS and renamed the boat “Monkey Fist” after the large spherical knot ship workers tie to the end of a light line, to increase the distance workers can throw the line from a large ship to the wharf when berthing.
After nearly a decade of providing their much needed services, the couple has decided to take their now incorporated association, Eyeglass Assist, to the next level. In mid-2018, they are undertaking a dedicated mission to the Solomon Islands to fit and dispense 10,000 pairs of spectacles and as many sunglasses they can carry on board, to the rural villagers who cannot afford or access them. To reach their goal they will be working six days per week and will do this without any personal monetary gain. The Solomon Islands is one of the least developed nations in our region, most rural people live subsistence lifestyles, they have no running water, no electricity, no light after dark, very limited health services and no access to shops.
Frances and Paul will depart Australia from Brisbane and sail 1,100 nautical miles (2,000kms) across the Coral Sea to the Santa Cruz group, the eastern most province then work/sail their way to the other provinces, the entire journey taking around six months. They are undertaking this project to help improve people’s lives in a simple but such an important way. Frances says,
“We've fitted glasses to people in their 70's 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 textbook, a situation that we who live the developed world can't envisage.”
They are now conducting presentations and doing interviews with the media to raise the awareness of their project and to raise funds to cover some of the costs associated with the project. Her former colleagues at Darwin Rental Specialists are proud of Frances and her husband Paul, so they have joined their efforts by donating $300 to Eyeglass Assist. If you would like to help, just visit them online or follow their story on Facebook.