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 Spanish opticians help Bosnians 
with eye problems

by Carmen Font


A report about Ňptics x mÓn (Opticians for the World), a Spanish group dedicated to providing eye glasses to disadvantaged people, and to increasing the number of optical centers in countries ravaged by war or poverty.  


Barcelona, Spain
The Spanish project Ňptics x mÓn (Opticians for the World) has an eye for unnoticed needs. It was started in 1995 by a young graduate optician who, after travelling to Bosnia and witnessing the dreadful living conditions of refugees in Tuzla, committed herself to sending as many glasses as possible to the local ophthalmologists.

There was a real need for glasses, since Yugoslavia is a country with a high cultural and literacy level, and the thousands of refugees coming from the villages had lost practically everything. The local doctors could test their eyesight but could not offer glasses, which caused many children, old people, disabled, orphans, refugees and displaced people to suffer serious sight troubles.

But they did not have to wait for long. The volunteers of Ňptics x mÓn organized campaigns to collect glasses, involving many parts of Spain. "It is a very simple idea," explains Meritxell Ebbes. "People leave their old or broken glasses or frames in the optician's. We collect them, fix them and send them wherever they are needed. We gather some 5,000 glasses a year."

Ňptics x mÓn has already carried out three one-month emergency programmes in Tuzla, Zenica and Sarajevo, where the volunteers tested eyesight and provided glasses to 3,500 people. "But the problem isn't solved by emergency programmes," emphasizes Meritxell, "since to be effective they need continuity. Existing equipment became inadequate, local ophthalmologists only dealt with serious eye diseases and in some cases they prescribed glasses, but these weren't available to people. Two young Bosnian students came to Barcelona to study and after one year an optician's was set up in Tuzla, which now functions on its own."

The volunteers insist that the aim of the group is to empower some people in these countries to open their own optical centers: "In February a team of six volunteers travelled to El Salvador. This is a country where much educational and literacy progress is being made, which has generated the need, so far not uncovered by local doctors, for correcting sight deficiencies."

While this group works in the field on a one-year emergency programme, other volunteers in the Spanish headquarters continue collecting glasses and keep a watchful eye on other conflict areas of the world. "There is a real need for glasses in many parts of the world," according to Meritxell, "but we have been so busy with these projects that we haven't had time yet to build a more extensive network of opticians, both at a national and international level, to tackle this problem."

From the April 1999 issue of Share International.


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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005