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Honduran city with mountains in background

The World Through New Eyes: An Alcon Associate’s Volunteer Expedition in Eye Care and Beyond

The Alcon Canada International Volunteer Program (AC-IVP) enables our associates to give back to communities and help more people around the world see and live brilliantly. Each year, they select an engaged volunteer to serve communities in need of better quality of and access to eye care and beyond.

AC-IVP sponsorship recipient Caroline Fernandes, Product Manager, Surgical Retina and Glaucoma, dedicated her time and talents to serving Honduran communities for two weeks and shares her experience.

Caroline Fernandes at airport

I feel like I’ve been preparing for an opportunity like this my whole life. Volunteerism has been a way of life for me—an integral part of who I am. As a parent, it offers me another incredible opportunity to be a living example of values that I hope to instill in my child. I’ve engaged in some extraordinary volunteer and work experiences and feel fortunate to participate in the Alcon Canada International Volunteer program.

My journey began in the Central Highlands of Honduras—one of the poorest and inequitable countries in Latin America—where the need for eye care is huge. Eye surgeries, especially cataract surgeries, are largely inaccessible for the majority of Hondurans due to the scarcity of ophthalmologists and inadequate surgical training.

That’s why I joined the Advanced Center for Eyecare (ACE) Global Teaching Travel Team, whose central goal is to teach and train the next generation of Eye Care Professionals and help build technical expertise and capacity until the time when future medical brigades are no longer needed.

Advanced Center for Eyecare (ACE) Global Teaching Travel Team

Our volunteer team was a small group doing extraordinary work. The team was comprised of ophthalmologists, scrub techs, operating room (OR) circulators, anaesthetists, nurses, a sterile processing technician, an optometrist, and non-medically trained volunteers like me, willing to take any support task as needed.

In a week, the team operated in two ORs, completed 62 life-changing eye surgeries and evaluated nearly 200 patients in the clinic, some of whom had gone untreated for years and travelled hundreds of kilometers to seek help.

Centro Médico San Benito José

Then, we travelled to Centro Médico San Benito José (affectionately known as SBJ), an outpatient surgery hospital run by Franciscan Friars with the mission to serve the poor from the surrounding mountains in the Comayagua valley, where there’s a severe scarcity of resources. Although SBJ is a well-established surgery center, its ophthalmology program is relatively new and they lacked some supplies, equipment, and processes.

Yet, in spite of language barriers, occasional power outages, and some supply shortages, our team worked well together, troubleshot the issues and provided quality care to patients in need. It was incredible to be involved in laying the foundation for future ophthalmology services in the region.

There were many highlights from my time in Honduras, but the most rewarding part of my experience was helping in the eye clinic. It was astonishing to witness patients who, prior to surgery, had poor vision, limited light perception, and were only able to see hand motions. Then, after surgery, reporting 20/30 or 20/40 vision, as early as day one. Being a part of their pre- and post-operation journey was truly wonderful. Asking patients, “Cómo se siente?” and witnessing their overwhelmingly elated responses—a few happy tears and grateful smiles—was rewarding. Over the week, more than 100 surgeries were completed and many more patients were seen in clinic.

There is nothing quite like spending time in the service of others. Experiencing the joy patients have when they see for the first time after removing their bandages was a gift. Being a part of the volunteer team providing much-needed eye surgeries, teaching and training local Eye Care Professionals, and collaborating with like-minded individuals who are dedicated to making a positive impact on the world, made it immensely special.

I’m proud to be a part of Alcon Canada, which offers associates like me with enriching experiences and growth opportunities, and I encourage others to embark on their own meaningful adventures! I am grateful beyond words for the chance to give back and thankful for the passionate people behind the scenes that made it happen. The memories will stay with me forever!

Alcon employee Cfernandes holding baby