Optometrist looks to help Africa

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Julie Dean. As an optometrist at Roger Lee, Sheringham, Julie looks after the eyes of hundreds of north Norfolk residents, but, after visiting Africa two years ago, she decided to spread her skills further afield .

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Julie Dean. As an optometrist at Roger Lee, Sheringham, Julie looks after the eyes of hundreds of north Norfolk residents, but, after visiting Africa two years ago, she decided to spread her skills further afield . . .

Originally from Lowestoft, Julie trained in ophthalmic optics at Bradford University and, after gaining her professional exams at a local practice, went on to do a masters degree in visual optics.


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Her first job was at an opticians in Ripley, Derbyshire, and, after spells at various north of England practices, she returned to her native Norfolk in 1981, to work at Norwich, Lowestoft, North Walsham, Cromer and, since 2002, at Sheringham practice Roger Lee.

While at Norwich, Julie became involved with UK-based charity Vision Aid Overseas, which helps visually impaired people in developing countries, and, during the 1980s, she spent time working for the charity in countries including Tanzania, the Gambia and Sierra Leone.

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In 2007, she took second hand eye testing equipment and recycled spectacles to central Malawi with the Norwich Dedza Partnership, which runs education, health and IT projects in the country's Dedza district.

After setting up an eye clinic at the local hospital, Julie began testing a stream of people, with children, policemen, nurses, and the hospital's only doctor among her patients.

Discovering that many Malawian people didn't realise that poor sight could be improved with spectacles, Julie was keen to do more and, two years ago, she launched her own charity, Far Sight, to raise cash for equipment frames and lenses.

She has since returned to Dedza six times, screening 400 schoolchildren, training two local people as refractionists so that they can run the clinic between her visits; training the area's special needs teacher to test local people for reading glasses; facilitating the training of an ophthalmic clinical officer, and setting up links with workshops for the provision of affordable glasses.

Far Sight is supplied with spectacle frames donated by UK companies, some of which are exchanged with other Malawian clinics for lenses and eye drops.

Julie, who pays for her own flights and expenses, now hopes to build and equip an �8,000 extension which, once completed, will allow Dedza's hospital to be included in Malawi's outreach programme for cataract surgery.

She will be returning to Malawi in September to discuss the project, and to look in to expanding the Far Sight eye service to screen children outside the education system and provide outreach clinics throughout the Dedza district.

When not working, Julie enjoys singing with Norwich-based choir Hearts and Voices.

She also mentors fourteen teenagers as part of a scheme run by Broadland Council Training Services and, a keen walker, she is this week (July 7) planning to trek the coastal path from Brancaster to Sheringham with her son Jack.

What is the best thing about your job?

Being able to help people with sight problems, both here and in Africa.

And the worst?

Working inside all day, especially when patients tell you what a lovely day it is outside!

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

Cromer pier - being able to walk over the sea has fascinated and scared me since I was a child.

What is your greatest achievement?

Setting up the eye clinic in Malawi.

And your proudest moment?

Becoming a mum.

What is the one thing you would change about yourself?

I want to worry less.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

No comment. I want to keep my job!

Who or what is the love of your life?

My son Jack. He has put up with me for 20 years and deserves a medal.

Whom do you most admire?

anyone who does charity work without making a big fuss about it. I was very inspired by Bob Geldof in the 1980s.

What makes you angry?

Selfishness and rudeness.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Book: Once in a House of Fire, by Andrea Ashworth, film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and TV programme: Frasier.

How would you like to be remembered?

For being caring, daring and making people laugh.

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