Eyeglass Assist

Solomon Islands Project


Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it so hard for people in the Solomons to get glasses?

Where do Paul and Frances source their spectacles?

What is it that the Eyeglass Assist team actually do?

Do they need to be qualified?

Why the Solomon Islands?

What if people don't speak english?

What are the costs?

Why are they doing this?


Why is it so hard for the people in the Solomons to get glasses ?

Coming from a western country where it's possible to drive down to a Dollar Shop and buy a pair of over the counter reading glasses for $5 or from a pharmacy for $1
5 it's difficult to imagine anything else.  The Solomon Islands is by no means unique, there are many other countries where people are in a similar or worse situation, however we have found that the Solomon Islands is one of the least developed countries they have been too. 

People live in huts with thatched roofs and walls, they catch fish and grow vegetables and fruit.  Some have jobs but most jobs pay very little and there are not many jobs available anyway.  Of course once you have a job then there is less time to fish and tend your garden.  There is no electricity, there are no lights and when the sun goes down, around 6 o'clock everybody sits in the dark.  They have very little in the way of personal possessions - a few clothes, a knife, a fishing line.  No shoes.  Some have dugout canoes they can go fishing in.  Many of the basic things they need they make themselves.  There are the lucky ones who have family members working overseas who send back money which allows them to buy runabouts with outboard motors, but not many.  Where there are shops, if they have any stock, it is things like biscuits, sugar, rice, washing soap, tinned fish, bully beef and other basic staples.  There are few roads which are almost exclusively dirt tracks but most people walk. There are no bicycles.  The majority of people spend their entire lives within a small radius of their village.

So if you live in a village and you can't see properly and you decide that maybe a pair of glasses will help you, maybe, then how do you go about it ?  You need to catch one of the unreliable trade boats to Honiara, the capital city, using money you have finally managed to save up.  You stay with relatives in Honiara if you have any living there or, if not, then sleep where you can.  You don't have much money left.  You wait in line to see an eye doctor to have your vision checked.   You may be given a pair of spectacles without cost by the eye centre that have been donated by groups such as the Lions Club, if you are lucky that is. So you have your glasses and you catch the trade boat a few weeks later and, returning to your village, you are the only person there with a pair of glasses and everyone is very curious, everybody tries them on.  They suit some people who are very jealous of your glasses.  One day you come home from the garden and find that your glasses are missing, someone needed them more than you. In many traditional cultures this is not considered stealing, it's just sharing something that is needed. So now again you have no glasses. 

Imagine one day you see a foreign sailing boat anchor at your village, it's been many years.  You see some white people come ashore and speak to the chief.  They go back to their boat and a little later come back to shore carrying some big bags and the word is passed down from the chief that the white people are from the Lions Club of Australia and they are going to check everybody's eyesight and if they need glasses then they will give them to them for free.  You find this very difficult to believe, but you really would like to have a pair of glasses again so you walk down to see what is happening.  There are many people standing around waiting but some people already have their glasses and they say it is true - they are free.  You begin to worry that they will run out of glasses before it's your turn, but eventually it's your turn and a few minutes later you have the glasses that you needed.   Many people in the village need glasses and it takes two days for the people from Lions to see everyone but nobody misses out.  Everybody is smiling.

return to top of page

Where do Paul and Frances source their spectacles?

They have been members of the Lions Club of Australia, Recycle For Sight (R4S) Program since 2009. The program was established in 1997 and the the purpose of it is to supply spectacles generally to people in third world or developing countries without any cost to the recipients. In it's original and most basic form the process is that spectacles, which are no longer of use to a person (generally because their vision has changed and they need new spectacles), are donated to the Lions Club. This is often done by collection boxes at optometrists. The boxes are collected and taken to a Lions facility where they are checked, sorted, cleaned and repaired if necessary. Any spectacles that do not meet their high standards are discarded. The prescription of the lenses is then tested using an optical device that is appropriately called a Lensometer. The spectacles, together with a printout or written note are placed in a plastic bag with the glasses. However, more and more so these days the Lions Clubs are being donated new spectacles, often from overseas to augment their supply.  

The spectacles are then boxed and shipped around the world to where they are needed. After 20 years of the program operating to date the Australian branch has distributed 5 millions pairs of spectacles worldwide, and currently they are processing around 450,000 pairs per year. The program has been so successful that it has been replicated thoughout many Lions Clubs in many countries around the world. During their voyages Paul and Frances have sourced their spectacles from the Kipparing branch in Brisbane Australia, Papakura Lions Club in New Zealand and the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation in the USA.

  return to top of page

What is it that the Eyeglass Assist team actually do?


The various R4S programs around the world either conduct their own missions to target particular needy locations or they supply spectacles to organizations or groups who's aim is to provide spectacles to people in needy areas. Generally speaking the areas that are targetted must be accessible both in terms of the ability of the people delivering the service to remain there as well as the ability to transport the spectacles to those locations. The logistics and the expense of doing so is significant and therefore when these projects are carried out they take place in locations and on a scale that is economical to do so, i.e. generally larger centres. So what happens if you live in a small remote village and are not able, due to cost or infirmary, to attend at a larger centre? This is where Paul and Frances are able to help fill the gap - they stock their yacht with spectacles and sail to islands that are well off the beaten track and give the people glasses they would not otherwise have.

What they are doing can best be described as a service to the community. They generally carry on board a few thousand pairs of spectacles, the vast majority of them are what some people call "readers" or "cheaters". They are positive prescription spectacles and what they carry ranges from very weak (+0.25) to very strong (+8.00). We also carry a much smaller selection of negative prescription spectacles that are needed by most people who are near-sighted. When they arrive at a village Paul and Frances find the village chief or other such person in authority, or in their absence the health sister (if there is such a person) or a minister, priest or religious leader. They introduce themselves, tell the leader that they are carrying a range of spectacles and ask if they believe that there is anyone in the community who needs spectacles. And that if people need glasses then they can help them to find a pair that enables them to see more clearly. Also that there is no cost. Invariably the response is positive and they organize a location and time where they invite the people in the community to come along and see if they have something that might help them see better.

return to top of page


Do they need to be qualified?

No, not when you understand what it is that they actually do.

They are not doctors nor are they optometrists and they make certain that wherever they go people understand this very important point. It is a common question people have and I think the bottom line is "what is it they are trying to achieve and the circumstances surrounding this program". The process is not invasive and involves no medical procedures.  It involves simple comparative tests, that is : which pair is better?

In the Western world, you can consider that there are two extremes when it comes to correcting a person's vision by spectacles. On one extreme is being assessed by a highly qualified ophthalmologist which can lead to a resolution as simple as being prescribed a pair of spectacles or can be as complicated as eye surgery. In some countries there are no optometrists, only ophthalmologists, which seems odd but it is their country and their decision.  The other extreme is being able to walk into a "Dollar" Shop or a pharmacy and buying a pair of "off the shelf" readers. 

It has only been in the last few years that spectacles have become available in such shops and at inexpensive prices, before that it was necessary to visit an optometrist and have their eye's examined and then be prescribed what have traditionally been a very expensive pair of spectacles. Also often it occurs that people need correction for both short-sightedness and long-sightedness. There are three solutions to this: several pairs of spectacles; bi-focals, and; transition lenses. Unless you want to carry around several pairs of spectacles and changed them to suit the situation you are in then this is one of the many circumstances you will need the help of an optometrist. In relation to contact lenses, it is common place to purchase these on line over the internet, if you know the prescription.

The term "prescription" to the layperson can be misleading. It really has two meanings in the field of medicine:- it can mean an official document, signed by a qualified and licensed medical practitioner that allows you to purchase a drug that is otherwise not available to the public. It also means, in relation to vision, what correction a person's eyes need in order to focus an image on the back of the eye or retina. For many people, if they know the vision prescription then they can simply walk into a store, find the right number (prescription) and purchase them. The same applies to purchasing contact lenses (or spectacles) online.

This is a very, very simplistic explanation and a prescription for spectacles can be very complex to address all the issues a person may have, however for a vast majority of people a simple pair of "off the shelf" readers are more than good enough to make a huge difference in their lives and this is where the Eyeglass Assist team comes in.   

But if you don't know the vision correction prescription then what do you do? You compare. You take two pairs of glasses and you look through each of them in turn and see which is better. You can repeat this process until you find a pair that clears the vision, for the the correct distance, depending on what it is that you want to do.

The places where the Eyeglass Assist team provide what is best described as a community service, do not have shops that sell such things.  There are no ophthalmologists or optometrists and the people generally live subsistence or very simple lives. If and when, as sometimes happens, a government drive assesses people's need for spectacles, i.e. they send an expert team into the field to check peoples vision and often provide them with a slip of paper on which is written their prescription.  However, they generally have no place to purchase them and no money with which to do so anyway, which is a situation they have encountered on more than one occasion.

It is also important to understand that the majority of places that the Eyeglass Assist team go, many people have never owned a pair of spectacles.  Often pairs of spectacles are shared around the village, often with people using glasses that are not what they need but as they are all that are available they use them.  Without glasses they may not be able to see very well but if that is all they have known for what often is a long period of time and their vision has just slowly deteriorated, then the concept that the spectacles can allow them to see clearly again can be beyond their understanding. In any event, in most instances, most people in these villages could not afford to buy glasses so they go without.

return to top of page


Why the Solomon Islands?

In 2009 Paul and Frances spent one month in the Solomon Islands on a voyage from Papua New Guinea to New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Lying between 6 and 10 degrees south of the Equator this places the Solomons in the wrong latitude for being threatened by cyclones. The seasonal window that allows ocean travel in a South Easterly direction is only brief. Too early in the season and there is a significant risk of encountering a tropical revolving storm, too late and you will encounter the strong adverse prevailling trade winds.

If the passage is left too late and the trade winds establish themselves for the season then it almost impossible for a small boat to make progress in this direction. Their original plan was to sail to the south east as quickly as possible to New Caledonia and then take their time sailing back to the north west and then spending more time in the Solomon Islands. As happens, their plans changed and in 2010, after they spent 3 months in Vanuatu, they sailed back to Australia where they bought their current yacht Monkey Fist.

What they have found on their voyage to date is that the further one heads west in the Pacific the less the people have. That is not to say that people in for example French Polynesia live an easy life but they do have tremendous support from the French Government. France subsidies French Polynesia to the tune of around $2 billion per annum. Countries such as Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga have more prosperous economies, and all have enjoyed reputations for being safe holiday destinations for many years, even taking into account issues such as the the coup in Fiji and the riots in Tonga. The results for these countries has been a significant and prolonged inflow of foreign money, in the form of tourist spending and foreign investment which have led to employment and an improvement in the standard of living for many of the local people. However, they are still a long way behind the standard of living in the developed world.

In the rankings determined by the IMF in relation to GDP Per Capita for 2016 the Solomon Islands rates the lowest of any country in the region (other than Kiribati but there is very little differnce)  (source wikipedia).

Canada _______________$46,437
Japan ________________$41,275
New Zealand___________$37,294
Indonesia _____________$11,720
Tonga _________________$5,386
Papua New Guinea _______$3,541
Solomon Islands_______$1,973
Kiribati _________________$1,823

In the 186 countries listed by the IMF there are only 22 that rate lower than the Solomon Islands.

In this part of the world they believe that the people of the Solomon Islands and Papua and New Guinea are the most deserving recipients of assistance due to the lack of economical development. Papua and New Guinea is a country where they have spent 8 months and the people are dear to their hearts and they would love nothing better than to do what they can to help them however there are major security issues for foreign travellers here. There is systemic corruption within the government which may take decades to eradicate, if it is ever possible. More specifically there is a widespread organized crime gangs called "Rascals" who run rampant in thoughout the country, robbing, murdering and raping. The main island of PNG is the main hub of crime, but not the only one. Provincial centres such as Rabaul on New Britian and Lorengau on Manus are very insafe places for foreigners. Of all the yachts they know that have visited the mainland of Papua and New Guinea, all have experienced violence and theft. Paul and Frances do not feel as though the level of risk at the present time is acceptable for us.

The Solomon Islands have had their own problems, essentially unrest as a result of unresolved land use/ownership issues from colonial times that has resulted in the establishment of the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands also known as RAMSI, being established in joint co-operation with the Australian Federal Police,NZ and other countries in 2003. In 2013 the situation stabilised to the point that the mission was officially withdrawn. Recent reports from other yachts cruising the Solomon Islands have not reported any major issues.

return to top of page


What if people don't speak english?

Often people ask us what do we need to be able to do what we do, and we tell them that your most important skill must be communication, not just speak to people in the same language, but on a one-to-one basis, to make certain that the person you are helping and yourself both understand completely what is happening.  This might sound odd but if the person you are dealing with has never used a pair of glasses then they don't understand what to expect when they try different ones. 

You need to speak the same language.  English is not a problem of course for us, however not everyone speaks english.  Along the way I (Paul) have learnt French and Spanish and also each time we arrive in a new country, where the people do not speak english, I give myself a crash course in learning the terms in the local language that relate to eyesight.  Frances will use a translator if someone is available or seek my assistance to ensure that the correct glasses are provided. 

Some of my fondest memories are of conducting our eyeglass sessions in remote islands in French Polynesia where "the old people" have often never learnt French, all they know is their traditional local polynesian language. So how do we then cope?  Well I have used a translator who translates what I say in French into the local language and vice versa.  What tremendous fun it is too.

 return to top of page  


What are the costs?

The spectacles are being provided without cost by the Lions Club and we are donating effectively an entire year of our time to making preparations and carrying out the mission and we are providing the use of our yacht to allow this all to happen.  When preparing submissions for grants, it is a requirment that not-for-profit organisations such as us include "In -Kind" contributions based on a standard formula. In-kind contributions places a value on the effort and resources that we can bring to the project.  On this basis we have calculated that our In-kind contribution will be $58,560 - not including any work we do prior to and after the completion of actual voyage itself. 

However, this is just the starting point and there are many other costs that soon add up and Paul and Frances are not in a financial position to cover these additional costs themselves, which is where they are hoping you will come to their aid.

Some of those costs include : -

  • Customs and quarantine charges for entry into the Solomon Islands as well as re-entry into Australia

  • Customs charges Solomon Islands (additional for spectacles)

  • Offshore vessel insurance

  • Outboard motor fuel

  • Storage of vessel in northern Australia prior to departure

  • Preparation of vessel for open ocean passages

  • Remote location communication subscription/rental

  • Travel health insurance

  • Vaccinations

  • Diesel costs/engine consumables

  • Local boat hire

  • Security costs

return to top of page


Why are they doing this?

Helping other people has always been an important part of Paul and Frances lives, but especially so when they see the hardship of those less fortunate than themselves, and the difficulties and challenges that accompany many people's lives.  The circumstances into which anyone is born is nothing more than luck.  A person's race, skin colour, level of wealth or religion is irrelavent because we are all just people and every person should have the same rights.  What this has meant to them personally is that they feel at home wherever they travel. And as the saying goes "there are no strangers, just friends you haven't met".

Many people feel compassion but at the same time don't see how they can help. Paul and Frances are just two ordinary people who feel that providing glasses in this way is how they can help to make this world a better place and are lucky enough to have this opportunity that many people don't have. The older they get, the more important it has become for them to pursue.


return to top of page


This website was designed and created by Paul and Frances Tudor-Stack