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Staff member collects eye glasses for people who can't buy them

by UofL Today last modified Aug 05, 2010 02:34 PM

If you have old eyeglasses, reading glasses or even inexpensive sunglasses taking up space in the back of a drawer, Carolyn Graves wants them.

Staff member collects eye glasses for people who can't buy them

Carolyn Graves

They're not for her.

Graves, a senior research compliance auditor for UofL's Human Subjects Protection Program, is collecting them for people in Third World countries who can't afford to pay for eye care.

Graves grew up in Antigua, West Indies, a small island country in the eastern Caribbean. Although her childhood was idyllic in some ways, her life was far from ideal.

"My father was a fisherman. His income was seasonal because there are times you cannot fish. I grew up destitute," she said.

Her family home had no running water, stove or refrigerator. She and her siblings had to trek to the single village water pipe and carry water home in buckets and jars. Sometimes they made shoes out of cardboard layers and palm fronds.

Many nights she went to bed hungry.

Most villagers received medical, dental and eye care only during occasional visits by churches and other international aid groups, she said. Sometimes these groups brought donated eyeglasses, a memory that always stuck with her.

She and other children sometimes received sunglasses with huge goggle-like lenses, she said laughing at the memory.

"But they were so helpful in helping protect the eyes from the sun."

Graves decided to collect used eyeglasses after hearing of the devastation wrought by earthquakes in Haiti in January and Chile in February. After doing some research, she found that many parents in poor countries cannot provide for their children because they cannot see well enough to work.

She also learned that blindness often can be prevented.

 "Giving the gift of sight is especially important to me as my father is now blind," she said. "I strongly believe that had we been able to afford the medical care or eye glasses at the time he needed them, he would still be able to see."

The glasses Graves collects at UofL and her church will go to two nonprofit groups, Unite for Sight and Hand of Hope. The groups ensure the frames and lenses are in good condition before distributing them to people in Africa, Asia, India, Latin America, Chile and Haiti.

Coworkers in Graves' office, a division of UofL's Office of the Executive Vice President for Research, are supporting her on the project, and her office is sponsoring the drive.

"Carolyn is a compassionate and giving person who came from a disadvantaged background," said John Burke, who directs the Human Subjects Protection Program. "Because of her desire to help others, the very least we could do was to agree to help her."

Between Aug. 9 and Aug. 31, those who want to donate eyeglasses can drop them off at collection boxes in the lobbies of Kornhauser Library at the Health Sciences Center, Ekstrom Library on Belknap Campus and MedCenter One (501 E. Broadway).

If people want to buy new glasses at pharmacies or discount stores and donate them, "that would be perfect as well," Graves said.

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