“I love doing these clinics,” said Dr. Pamela Brown. “It brings a lot of meaning to my work.” An optician for 33 years, Dr. Brown brought a team of 12 doctors and 36 support personnel to Browning High School last week as part of OneSight and Walking Shield’s second eye and vision clinic held in Browning.
Last year, the weeklong event attracted more than a thousand people who all got free eye exams, prescriptions and glasses made to order on-site. While that event saw mostly youngsters in attendance, far more adults came in this year.
“I do lots of regional clinics in Michigan [where her regular practice is located] and globally; I’ve been to Guatemala, Mexico, Thailand, Antigua, Ghana, Chile,” Dr. Brown said “I’m so beyond fortunate to be able to do that…I go in early to set up, and the process has changed over the years, for the better. Specifically, the organization. It’s easier and more efficient, and we have better equipment. You couldn’t get a better exam in my office.”
High unemployment is one of the reasons OneSight and Walking Shield returned to Blackfeet Country, but it’s not the overall aim of the program. “We work with local professionals for free vision care for marginalized communities,” said Melissa Stadridge, Program Manager for OneSight. “Then we look at creating a sustainable program instead of coming back year after year. It would be great if the Tribe had an eye clinic. We can provide training for people to become opticians; so that’s where we’re looking at. We’re hoping to have conversations with people here…we’re looking for communities that are moving that direction, and that may be the Blackfeet. Our goal is sustainable options. We need long term solutions.”
This year, OneSight and Walking Shield were prepared to give away 1,700 pairs of glasses. As of Monday, June 3, only 215 people came, and on Tuesday they hoped to have 350.
“We got more than 1,600 people registered, and we have a hard cutoff on Friday at 10:30 for the last person,” Stadridge said. “Our goal is 1,500 people; we have the inventory and the people, and we may not be back for some time.”
The two organizations that partnered to bring another clinic to Browning have similar, but not identical aims. On its website, OneSight describes itself this way.
“OneSight is the independent nonprofit with the solutions, people and resources to eradicate the vision care crisis for good. We believe that when the world sees better, the world lives better - and that with clear vision, we can take on humanity’s greatest challenges. Together with donors, volunteers, partners and sponsors, we bring eye exams, glasses and permanent vision centers to the individuals and places that need eye care the most. We’ve impacted over 21 million people in 49 countries and counting - creating opportunity and sustainable change along the way. And to think, it all started in 1988 with an idea to give away 25 pairs of glasses to local kids who couldn’t afford them.”
Essilor/Luxottica is OneSight’s main sponsor, which Stadridge said is the reason Lenscrafters folks were at the clinic since they raise money for such projects at their stores.
Walking Shield is more focused on Native American issues and solutions. Their website describes it this way.
“Walking Shield’s mission is to improve the quality of life for American Indian families by coordinating programs that provide shelter, health care, community development support, educational assistance and humanitarian aid. Walking Shield is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has significantly increased its program support activities over the past several years. Working closely with tribal leaders, Walking Shield provides a variety of services to American Indian families. Operation Walking Shield consists of the Medical and Dental Support Program, the Infrastructure Support Program and the Housing Relocation Program. Other programs include the Humanitarian Aid Program, Holiday Gift Program, Education Program and The Gift of Sight Partnership.”
Together, OneSight and Walking Shield brought more than free eye examinations and glasses to the Blackfeet Reservation; they brought the promise of developing local programs that may intersect with other local initiatives focusing on diet and food sovereignty to positively affect people’s health and well being.