My story starts in the UK, a newborn Christian in my 20’s (I come from a Hindu family) a hospital optometrist ready to save the world from blindness one patient at a time!
Little did I know God was preparing me for a place that has one of the greatest needs for a skill set like mine. A country that needs the exact service that my heart had always been yearning to provide – South Africa!
In the past I kept landing up jobs that were way out of my comfort zone, jobs I never thought I’d specialise in. I was put into a big hospital contact lens department in London that dealt with corneal conditions. It was hard complex work as the department got all of the weird and wonderful from all over the globe! It was very much a sink or swim situation of being thrown in the deep end, a total baptism of fire, as not a single Patient was “normal” like we were used to at university!
But God does not leave us without provision, especially when he has a plan. So a wonderful experienced optometrist took me under his wing and taught me all he knew.
18 months later I was asked to head up a small contact lens service in the midlands by a close friend.
At first I resisted, complained and came up with numerous excuses: “It’s away from my home town”, “I have never headed up a department before”, “It’s too small”, “It’s not enough of a challenge.”
Thankfully this friend persisted and God some how moved 2 very special friends of mine to this very small department too which eventually convinced me to give up my “big shot” job in London and brave it up North. God was at work, directing me into His big plan. It was a wonderful 2 years of working with my close friends, realizing that I can make it away from my parents/home with God’s help. There were challenges of course as I was being shaped for what was to come. I had to learn to work with staff under me that do not always behave as you would want. I had to learn to teach and I had to put a big budget proposal together in order to expand this department, which I did kicking and screaming as admin and finances is really not in my comfort zone either. While I was learning, I realised that if God has a vision and wants you to do something you have to obey Him in faith even if you do not comprehend the plan at the time.
Then I met my hubby to be – a young South African ophthalmologist who was locuming at the hospital at the same time as me. Gods timing is always impeccable!
Hence the Big plan begins:
We married and moved to SA as he landed a registrar post at Grooteschuur Hospital which enabled him to specialise and complete his studies. At which point one of his consultants learned that I was an optometrist who specialised in complex contact lenses for corneal diseases/disorders, they begged him to encourage me to head up a contact lens service that was desperately needed and pretty much only hanging on by a thread as the consultant who was currently employed was only providing the service whenever she had the time.
So I walked into the biggest challenge of my working life: Poor equipment, very little trial lenses, a terrible ordering system that took months for a pair of lenses to arrive, an over whelming amount of patients that needed fitting with some of the most complex and advanced disease I had ever seen, nursing staff that were disinterested in the service and no money to improve it with! Needless to say this was not a paid position for me either.
At first I dived right into it, but when I realised the extent of the problems and what was needed to run this service I wanted to run from it all!
What kept me from running was God’s voice telling me: “You had a passion to provide sight for the blind/partially sighted”, “You hoped for an opportunity to really use your skills”, “I have given you the training that you needed”, “Now go and unleash it all” – so that is exactly what I went and did.
This pretty much non existent service has been over hauled over the last 10 years simply by the grace of God! I dealt with one issue at a time, and while there were real challenges, God came through. I managed to convince the powers that be” at the hospital that this was an essential service that needed a hospital budget of its own, by showing them some of the results of the service and providing them with a budget proposal which, thanks to God, I was now equipped to do. It was a 2 year battle, but they came through and the clinic has now been funded by the hospital for the last 5 years.
Another challenge was that while the actual contact lenses for the patients were funded, the equipment and trial lenses, which I needed to fit the patients with, was insufficient and the hospital budget would not allow for these things to be improved, which meant that I could not fit patients with advanced diseases which made up about 50% of my patients. So after 2 years of red tape at the hospital and a growing waiting list, I took my troubles to Ryan and this is where Common Good came to the rescue and bought me 4 sets of new trial lenses in 2017, this has enabled me to now fit 99% of patients walking into the clinic!
This Clinic changes so many lives. The patients walk in seeing very little which greatly impacts them and their families lives. Many of them cannot get jobs, the young students that I see, are failing at school or university due to their poor eyesight, moms that cannot look after their kids so well, most of them fail to function properly without their eyesight. These are all patients with corneal disorders which means regular spectacles do not work for them, and they have to have specially made contact lenses in order to see. Once these patients are fitted, the amazing thing is that most of them come out of the clinic with perfect vision, and so they can drive, are more employable and start succeeding at school. The impact on our society is just awesome! Below are some pics of people the service has impacted:
Anthony Zanza - he does great work for Scripture Union and is so pleased that his previously very unequal eyes are now sorted!
Faaghira - could not see without her contact lenses, she now has a drivers license and is a manager at a big Tyre shop.
Omega - Is a nanny who's employer was just besides themselves as how to help her to look after their child better and to be able to keep her in employment. When she walked in she had to be assisted onto my chair, she walked out 2 weeks later with lenses and being able to see a whole new world and retain her job!
A group class getting taught how to insert and remove their lenses.
These are just a few testimonies of the many lives that this service impacts!
This clinic offers the only state service for this type of patient in the Western Cape and so even though most patients are from Cape town we get people from as far as George and Atlantis etc, this really is a vital service being offered.
“Are there still challenges?” Totally!
We could always do with more trial lenses, the waiting lists are huge. I am still an unpaid volunteer.
“Am I hopeful that things will get sorted?”
Yes God is in charge of this clinic!
There has been a patient voice in the back ground urging me to pursue my other passion and skill set: Low vision aids and rehab for children – another service that there is no provision for in the Western Cape, but that is a story for another day!
Watch this space, I look forward to being chiseled into shape for Gods future plans in my life, all for the sake of His glory.
Please pray for me to be able to face my fears and the over whelming sense that “this is just too big for me”.
Ritu Vanvelden and her family