Hannah was a sight for sore eyes in rural South Africa

Hannah McIntyre

Hannah was a sight for sore eyes in rural South Africa

A grounding in science at Forth Valley College really prepared Optometry student Hannah McIntyre for a life changing volunteering adventure in South Africa.

Hannah (27) from Camelon a former HND Applied Biological Sciences student at FVC, used her skills to help people on board the Phelophepa train - meaning ‘good, clean health’ - run by the Transnet Foundation in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University, which visits some of the poorest areas in South Africa, delivering first rate health care to those who need it the most.

Optometry students – such as Hannah - from the School of Health and Life Sciences at the university can take the opportunity for placement on the Phelophepa healthcare train project which provides healthcare by rail to South Africa’s neediest communities.

She said: “Transnet run two trains that go and deliver healthcare to rural areas. I first heard about it through Glasgow Caledonia University who have got a partnership with Transnet, so there is the option to find out more about it and sign up and go in the third year of your degree with some of your classmates.

“There were six of us altogether in my group and we all went at the start of June 2018 for just under three weeks - two full weeks on the train which was great! On the train we were doing a mixture of different things, we were mainly testing eyes and there would be people waiting just to see you, sometimes for up to a week, before we even stopped at the station.

“We tested kids, adults, older people and it was the first time I had ever tested a kid in my life and it was terrifying. Other than that you got the option of going into the lab on the train where they make up the glasses and that was a pretty welcome change some days. Alternatively you could be signing people in and registering that they were there and telling them how long they were going to be waiting.”

The project won the United Nations Public Service Award in 2008 and has gone from strength to strength, from a three-carriage eye clinic to an 18-carriage state-of-the-art mobile healthcare provider, treating up to 100 patients a day.

Hannah went on: “The experience was mixed for me. I feel I got so much from it practise-wise that I will never get at uni, until I am in a real life work situation. It wasn’t always happy times. It really gave me an insight into how other people have to live and how little some people have – I think it has really opened my eyes a wee bit to that and how a tiny bit of a volunteer’s help can help someone else.

“But all in all it was a great experience, especially on the practical side of things where I feel I got an invaluable insight into what the job is all about, something which I would never have received at home. It also gave me a wee bit of wider knowledge of the things you don’t see very often, like seeing the conditions that people have to live in over there.

“It has definitely changed me and i would recommend that other students take up the same opportunity, or another volunteering opportunity. We all take our eyesight a wee bit for granted in this country, so it lets you see just how valuable it is to people and how other people need people to go and volunteer and help out. The train I was working on would not be able to operate without volunteers going over.”

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