“I need glasses,” says Qian, an outgoing sixth-grader who emigrated from China at age seven to join her family in New York. Her parents work long hours to make ends meet – her father is a cook and her mother a cashier. “My parents don’t spend much time with me because they are always at work,” she said. Though the Brooklyn student knew that she needs glasses, she didn’t ask to get taken to the eye doctor because she felt that her parents “have too much things to do.”
Qian is one of many students in New York City that needlessly struggle to see because their parents don’t have time to bring them to an eye doctor or can’t afford to buy a pair of eyeglasses. Ninety-two percent of Qian’s classmates live within 200% of the federal poverty line. Helen Keller International’s ChildSight® program brings a licensed optometrist and trained staff to assess the vision of students in needy communities like Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Students who need eyeglasses receive a pair at no cost to their families and those who need further treatment receive a referral for follow-up care.
When Dr. On Lam, consulting licensed optometrist for ChildSight® New York, met Qian, he noticed something right away. “Qian couldn’t even see the big ‘E’ on the eye chart. She couldn’t even see across this small room yet she never had glasses before.” Like many students served by ChildSight®, Qian struggles to see the board and would copy her teacher’s notes from her classmates’ notebooks. Oftentimes, she’s finds that when she’s finally able to start the classwork, everyone else has finished.
Qian loves to read and even spends her weekends reading at the library. Her favorite subject is social studies because she learns “interesting things about the world,” especially American history. Reading is easier now that Qian can see clearly. Since she received her eyeglasses from ChildSight®, Qian has also become more confident and is participating in class regularly, which has made her mother very happy. “It makes it easier for me to raise my hand to speak when I can see everyone and everything in the room clearly,” she said.
Qian aspires to become a journalist when she grows up, particularly because she comes from a country where speaking freely can come with great risk. “It’s such an important job,” she said, “to be able to expose stories even if they get other people in trouble.” She is thankful to ChlidSight® for helping her read and learn the things she needs to reach her dreams. “Glasses,” she said, “have really just opened a whole new world for me.”