There’s an old saying that behind every great man, there’s a great woman.
But in our case, there was, and currently is, an abundance of fabulous women getting in behind Fred’s vision of a world where no one is needlessly blind.
March 8th marks International Women’s Day — a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
The Foundation has taken its own steps to contribute to gender parity in the Pacific, especially when it comes to access to healthcare.
Right now, we are monitoring clinic data in terms of eye care access for women to better inform our programmes in each country. The Foundation has been involved in the Gender & Eye Health Network steering committee, exploring alongside other stakeholders how to navigate gender-targeted and gender-mainstreaming approaches in their programmes.
The heart and soul of The Foundation, Gabi Hollows is an extraordinary woman.
After graduating as an orthoptist, Gabi took up a position at The Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney. It was there she first met Fred Hollows.
“I really think that I just enjoy what I do. It blows me away, the field of ophthalmology… if you’ve given us five cents or five dollars, it’s fantastic. It helps somebody get their sight back.”
In the final months of Fred’s life, along with some friends, Fred and Gabi set up The Fred Hollows Foundation to guarantee his work would carry on.
In the years since Fred died, Gabi has devoted herself to The Foundation she and Fred started together. Being able to restore a person’s sight, bring joy and a chance at a better life is what drives her day after day, just as it did Fred.
Working for The Fred Hollows Foundation for Agnes was a decision fueled by family.
“My uncle was blind in the left eye for seven years due to a traumatic cataract,” Agnes says. “In 2017, I took my uncle to the eye clinic and he had cataract surgery. I could see in his face how happy he was when the pad was removed from his eye.”
“That is the part that brings happiness and joy into my heart. I am proud to be part of this unique organisation, which restores vision to thousands of Papua New Guineans.”
Working in Papua New Guinea, she says that it comes with a set of challenges for women in the workforce.
“The majority of the employees working in the eye clinic are women. At times I would say to my women colleagues,
“As a working mother, I have to balance my time between work and family. I am so thankful that my family always support me in every way to be what I am now.”
We first met Preti in Navua Village, Fiji. She was the daughter-in-law of a 75-year-old grandmother, Raj, who desperately needed a cataract operation. We followed her journey from blindness to joy.
Preti took care of Raj’s every need, as well as taking care of her own children and providing for her household.
“She wants to walk around by herself, she wants to do the cooking, but she just wasn’t able to do it,” Preti said. “I have to help her.”
Without her help, Raj would have been left in darkness and fear
“We go out to visit some places — I have to dress her up, comb her hair, take care of her. It’s a lot of work for me”.
A 20-minute operation and expert care gave Raj her sight back. It was thanks to our wonderful donors who funded the Mobile Eye Clinic that we can make such a difference to people’s lives.
But we wanted to highlight Preti’s efforts — without her help, Raj would have been left in darkness and fear, knowing she had become a terrible burden to the family she loves.
Indigo & Iris, a socially responsible and sustainable make-up start-up business is the brain-child of Bonnie Howland and Hannah Duder.
The pair first met when they attended the 6th Global Entrepreneurship in Nairobi, Kenya in 2015, co-hosted by President Obama.
“We were both young, female and from New Zealand so became instant buddies at the conference,” Hannah says.
“We were good friends from then on and Bonnie asked me to come on board as CEO of Indigo & Iris in May 2017.”
What does this have to do with restoring sight? Well, Indigo & Iris pledged to donate 50% of the profits from their first product, Levitate mascara, to help us end avoidable blindness in the Pacific.
“We are both driven by the positive impact we can have, and we chose Fred Hollows because of the amazing work they do but also how a small amount can go a long way. We can also see and measure the impact we have with each donation.”
Eve is based in our Auckland office as a Supporter Services Coordinator — she is a cog in our machine that never stops, ever.
She has manually processed hundreds of thousands of supporters’ donations in her time, and says that she wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“It feels good,” Eve says. “You feel like you are in touch with the donor. You see their messages and their stories first hand.”
“Every day I come in and I’m actually helping to prevent somebody’s blindness, rather than just putting money and profit into somebody else’s pocket. Everything we do, even the small things, are all contributing to the operations.”
We are extremely fortunate to have many individuals, trusts, foundations, organisations and community groups that support our sight-saving work in the Pacific. Without this, we simply couldn’t do what we do.
One of the types of support we receive is through individuals leaving a bequest to The Foundation in their will, essentially helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of our programmes in the Pacific.
Sheila is one of them.
“There is a reward in knowing you’re helping people. People who don’t have any of the things that I have."
“I’m privileged. I know how lucky I am,’ says Sheila, who had her cataracts removed through the New Zealand system and was thrilled with a renewed quality of life.
But knowing that there are many people in the Pacific who live with cataract blindness, Sheila went home after the surgery and decided to not only make a donation to The Fred Hollows Foundation but to remember us in her will.
"I like to help and to give. Being able to give back, it doesn’t need to be a huge amount to make a huge difference, to give someone their life back.”
In 2016, Samoa gained its first eye doctor: Dr Lucilla Ah Ching-Sefo.
She graduated from the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji. Because of this, Samoa now has a comprehensive eye care service available year-round — previously The Foundation was only able to run a single week-long outreach per year.
“The Foundation’s training of local eye nurses and doctors at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji has provided us with the skills and knowledge to greatly and immediately improve the eye care health service available in Samoa,” says Dr Lucilla.
“The Foundation is providing outreach clinical services to Samoa, while at the same time enabling local health care workers to improve our local situation.”
Marleen was working in Papua New Guinea advocating for disability rights and inclusion when she saw that The Foundation was managing a training programme and eye clinic in the same town — she knew she had to join the cause.
Over the years that she’s worked in the Pacific, one thing she’s noticed is how women in the Pacific are extremely hardworking and resilient.
“I meet a lot of very strong, confident women who are often the sole bread winner for their families."
"They work full-time jobs during the day and then have another job waiting for them when they come home – to look after their families.”
But on the other end of the scale, in many countries Marleen has travelled to, she has witnessed women who are victims of physical abuse because their husbands were not supportive of them working and earning an income for their family.