Eyes on the Prize at World Games: Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes Program

Sayra Paola Barrios, Special Olympics Guatemala Gymnastics athlete, patiently waits to receive her new prescription glasses from the Special Olympics-Lions Club International Opening Eyes Program.

If you’ve never seen the world clearly, how would you know you are missing something?

For the last four days, thousands of athletes have been seen at the Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes screenings at the Special Olympics World Games and many lives have been changed, including those of the local volunteers from Abu Dhabi assisting with the screenings.

Inclusion

There are volunteers from the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Filipino Optometric Association in Abu Dhabi and of course, the Lions Club. Augsto Di Pietro, Local International Representative and Coordinating Lion Officer explained how important it was to have an event like Special Olympics held in the Middle East where he feels inclusion should be highlighted more.

“I’ve been a Lion for 21 years and to be able to have such a big event like this in the UAE is extremely important for us because we can expose all of our members to this,” Di Pietro said. “The fact that we can open up the world of sports to athletes with intellectual disabilities, it becomes an experience for us as well. We learn to speak the language, which is a universal language and we learn to interact with them. When we talk about inclusion, it’s all about this.”

Partnership

For 18 years Lions Clubs International, the world’s largest volunteer service club organization, has been partners with Special Olympics, providing over 400,000 athletes with vision care and 210,000 athletes with prescription glasses.

A New World

While many people might assume that most athletes have already been screened back home, that is not always the case. They may have the wrong prescription or may have never been given proper eye care over the course of their lifetime.

“The day you put on a pair of glasses you see a totally new world,” Di Pietro said. “I think the satisfaction and the hard work behind it comes from the smiles on their faces. The joy with which they receive and the affection they give you, there’s no language that can express it.”

Getting Glasses

After each athlete has been given an exam, they are able to choose their own frames which are available onsite. Safilo Group - a leading eyewear creator and worldwide distributor - supports the Opening Eyes program by supplying free optical frames and sunglasses. The frames range from different shapes, sizes and designs and there are also Erin’s World Frames available — which are frames designed specifically for people with Down Syndrome. Meanwhile, Essilor International – the world leader in ophthalmic optics – is the official global supplier of lenses to the program.

“I just tried on a pair right now,” said David Patrick Coates, a swimmer from South Africa. “But they have to put better frames on them … before I get them back. …How nice it will be for me to wear these glasses!”

David’s favorite part was getting a pin to add to the assortment of other pins on his lanyard from the Special Olympic World Games, but as he walked away he turned around and yelled a big "Thank you!" to everyone who helped him to pick out his new pair of glasses.

An athlete from Rwanda came to Opening Eyes this week with cranial facial swelling. After being seen at the clinic, he was sent to the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi for more extensive testing, but also to be fitted for a pair of 3D printed glasses to better fit his facial shape, giving him the proper eyewear that he needs to see clearly.

“It’s making the athlete feel comfortable,” Di Pietro concluded. “Whether it’s a medical visit, whether it’s playing a game, whether it’s winning, whether it’s losing, it’s all about inclusion.”

This article was produced as part of the AIPS Young Reporters Programme at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, generously supported by the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF).