Best friends, Cynthia Hickson and Lynn Lotter, not only share a lifetime of memories: They also share an altruistic spirit, 825 pairs of spectacles and a graduation ceremony they will never forget!
Hickson, a qualified physician assistant from Pennsylvania, USA, came to South Africa in 2011 when her husband accepted a new job. Through the American International Health Alliance (AIHA), Hickson volunteered at Mamelodi Hospital, one of 18 training sites for Clinical Associates students from the University of Pretoria (UP) Bachelor of Clinical Medical Practice (BCMP) programme.
Upon the recent introduction of Clinical Associates to South Africa’s healthcare system, Hickson brought nearly two decades of experience to bear, assisting with bedside mentoring, facilitating group discussions and delivering ongoing lectures.
Although she returned home in 2013, she continues to be actively involved in the BCMP programme and still mentors students across the 13 000 km distance. Her love and passion for the students – and for improving healthcare in general – prompted her to make a generous financial donation to BCMP students earlier this year.
‘When I discovered that bursaries had been somehow delayed in arriving in the students' accounts, I decided to help out so that they could have some money available for everyday expenses and food!’ says Hickson.
Her timely donation made it possible for the students to continue studying while they waited for the bursary allotments to be credited.
Evolution of the ‘Spectacles for Africa’ project
Reunited with her friends and family, Hickson has become a champion for change. She encouraged her long-time friend, Lynn Lotter, who was working at an Assisted Living community, to help cultivate the ‘Spectacles for Africa’ project.
‘I had three pairs of old spectacles in my drawer and Cynthia mentioned that they could be used by patients at Mamelodi Hospital where she was mentoring Clinical Associate students,’ says Lotter. ‘She opened my eyes to the fact that glasses are not affordable to many who need them.’
Realising the difference a simple pair of glasses could make to someone who would be empowered to do a job or to study and get a better education, Lotter rallied to the cause and invited residents to donate glasses. Their response was overwhelming and in just one month they donated over 300 pairs! Hickson also convinced her friend to match her own generous donation of bursary support to the BCMP students.
They continued to collect spectacles from their community and when they travelled to South Africa at the end of April 2015 to attend the BCMP graduation they had a total of 825 pairs of glasses!
‘We were just so honoured to be able to share this joyous day with the students whom we knew had worked so hard to complete the requirements for graduation. Life isn't special at all unless you can make it special for someone else!’ says Lotter.
They also paid a visit to the Mamelodi Hospital to present their donation of spectacles to the ophthalmology department, who were excited to receive them. ‘We were reminded by the hospital's CEO that one pair of glasses will affect more than just one person...it will affect an entire family! So we were so happy to be able to make even a small difference,’ says Lotter.
Hickson and Lotter both exemplify active participation in their chosen field. This dynamic duo proves that anything is possible and that everyone can make a positive difference!
‘We feel truly blessed to be able to help even in this simple way. The entire experience has been eye-opening and we will continue to look for ways to help,’ adds Lotter.