Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Seeing the Light

By Alli Sinclair

I’m a glass is half full kinda gal and I like to believe there are more good people in the world than bad. Travelling has always been a great way to test my theory and I’m happy to report, my theory of more good people than bad holds up. I’ve met many, many people willing to give up their time and comforts to go and make a difference in people’s lives, especially in developing countries.

If you asked me to name the most inspirational person who has done wonderful volunteer work and changed the health and welfare of entire communities, there would be no argument--Frederick “Fred” Cossom Hollows wins, hands down.

Born in New Zealand in 1929, Fred Hollows studied ophthalmology and moved to Australia in 1965 where he became an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of New South Wales. His interest in charity work had been sparked while studying in New Zealand, and when he moved to Australia, Fred travelled to outback Australia and worked with Aboriginal communities. During his time there, he grew concerned about the high incidence of eye disorders amongst the Aboriginal people, especially trachoma (a condition that can be treated with medication).

Fred, his mother, and others set up an Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, a suburb of Sydney with a high indigenous population. From this success, they set up similar clinics throughout Australia. He organized the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists to establish the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. Between 1976-1978, Fred and his team visited more than 460 Aboriginal communities, treating 62,000 people. As a result, 27,000 people were treated for trachoma, and another 1,000 received necessary eye operations.

Fred travelled to Nepal in 1985, Eritrea in 1987, and Vietnam in 1991, training local technicians to perform life-changing surgery in remote regions. He organized intraocular lens laboratories in Nepal and Eritrea to provide lenses at cost (around USD9).

Many of the people in these countries suffered blindness that could have been fixed with simple operations. They couldn’t work because they couldn’t see, and it was impossible to travel to large cities to obtain the help they so desperately needed. So Fred and his team visited them and found many of the patients had cataracts that could be removed and the patient could quickly return to work and earn money for their familes. Eye infections were cleared up with short doses of antibiotics and within a short while, Fred and his team changed the lives of many people, and in a lot of cases, entire communities.

In 1992 the Fred Hollows Foundation was formed but unfortunately, only five months later, Fred passed away from cancer. But thanks to the work of his wife, Gabi, and friends and family, the Fred Hollows Foundation has grown to the point where they now work in over 40 countries around the world including the continents of Asia, Australia, Europe, and Africa.

To give an example of the work they do, in 2011 (taken from the Fred Hollows Website), people working with his foundation have:

* performed eye operations on 282,714 people
* supported training for 10,757 medical and support staff
* examined 1,604,802 people
* delivered $3.38 million of medical equipment
* Built or upgraded 50 eye health facilities

This man’s kindness, knowledge, and undying belief that everyone has a right to health has changed countless lives and communities for the better. Even now, years after his passing, Fred’s team are and giving millions of people the chance to see the world and their loved ones and gain back their independence and self-esteem.

The world could do with more people like Fred and Gabi Hollows. I can only imagine…

If you want to find out more about The Fred Hollows Foundation or get involved, please click here:



  1. This man is a true global citizen, doing such good work everywhere. An inspiring story, Alli!

  2. I agree, what an amazing man. What's also amazing is the simplicity of some of these problems. They aren't life or death to everyone, but to affect a person's livelihood and ability to keep (or put) a roof over their head...reminds us never to take anything for granted, right? Truly remarkable that Fred had the foresight (haha) to change lives this way.

  3. Amazing story. Thanks for sharing, Alli!