Article Date: 2/1/2008

Extending an Olive Branch
reflections THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Extending an Olive Branch

The best way to combat poverty is to provide the underprivileged with educational opportunities.

WILLIAM OLIVOS, O.D. PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA.

I returned to Lima, Peru, where I grew up, with my wife, Susan, and then two daughters after graduating from a U.S. optometry school in 1995. My father and grandfather, also O.D.s, lived, practiced and taught optometry there, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. So, I joined my father's practice and taught optometry at the Federico Villarreal National University and the Escuela Superior Privada de Optica y Optometria, both in Lima.

Peru's pobreza

Having been born into privilege, my parents successfully sheltered me from the harsh poverty of the city. Now, however, I was face to face with men, women and children on the streets cleaning shoes, wiping windshields and extending their hands for soles (Peruvian currency). As a teacher, I saw many young students passionate about eye care quit after one semester because they had to help support their families.

Olive Tree scholarship recipients at Escuela Superior Privada de Optica y Optometria.

Planting an olive tree

In realizing that a lack of education was the root of poverty, Susan and I decided to create a foundation that would fund scholarships for both optometric and regular colleges and universities as well as provide cost-free eyecare clinics for the underprivileged populations of Latin American countries. The foundation would also include a mentoring program, in which Latin American students could e-mail professionals in their field of study.

We'd hoped to permanently live in Peru, using our U.S. education (Susan is a teacher) to give back, but the country's poor economic situation and the growing presence of terrorist organizations threatened our family's well being. So, we returned to the United States with our now three daughters in 1999. Flash-forward six years later and the Olive Tree Foundation for Education (OTFE), a 501C not-for-profit organization, began seeking scholarship funds (www.olivetreefoundationforeducation.org).

Susan and I chose this name because when one properly plants and cares for an olive tree, it flourishes and provides fruit to those who need it. And those in need can, in return, plant their own olive trees, continuing to spread the seed to others in need of the tree's fruit. We believe the olive tree symbolizes a person who receives education, and its fruit is the dissemination of that education.

OTFE began with six scholarships, the recipients of which have all graduated from La Escuela Superior De Optica y Optometria and are currently practicing optometry in Peru. Last year, OTFE was able to offer scholarships to students of two other optometry schools as well as nursing-engineering, industrial-management and teacher-training institutes in Peru, bringing our total scholarship funds to almost 50. Also, OTFE has provided cost-free eye care to more than 4,500 Latin Americans in need, and we are planning our annual Peru mission trip for July 2008. We hope to branch into other Latin American countries, such Columbia, in the near future.

As OTFE continues to bear the seed of education to those Latin Americans in need, I am hopeful that someday the streets of Peru will be free of beggars and that no student will have to quit school. OM


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139, OR KIRBYJ@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.



Optometric Management, Issue: February 2008