By Denis Langlois
Christine Zacharko is making a difference both at home and abroad.
Through her mobile optical business Glasses To Go, the Alberta optician provides eyecare and eyewear services to seniors in their homes and at their bedsides in and around Edmonton as part of a Senior Solutions Team.
Zacharko also volunteers on humanitarian trips, assisting with eyesight clinics in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
She says her goal is to help make a difference in the lives of people who need vision care the most. And she says she continues to be inspired by those in the most dire situations.
“To see their inner strength empowers me to try harder, work longer and never give up. We have no excuses,” she says.
“May I challenge each and everyone to go out there and make a difference in someone’s life. Be the change. Help and always be kind!”
Zacharko started Glasses To Go from the basement of her home in Sherwood Park, near Edmonton, in July 1995.
She was inspired to open a business serving seniors in nursing homes, hospitals and in their own homes after witnessing the struggles her mother endured while helping her grandmother, who was in a senior’s home, to get the medical and vision care she needed.
“I thought, ‘why does no one come here to help grandma?” So I thought we should. We started serving onsite care and I have never looked back,” she says.
“I love my seniors and caring for them. It takes a lot of time, love and patience to work with the senior population. I am passionate about it. I know it shows. They feel the love and that is why it works.”
Zacharko participated in her first mission trip to Haiti in 2012, two years after a powerful earthquake devastated the impoverished country.
She teamed up with the Jeff Cherubin Domond Foundation, which was offering medical missions in Haiti.
She returned to run the eye clinic in both 2014 and 2016.
She is planning to return again this March.
At the eye clinics, hundreds of people show up each day to be seen and treated. They range in age from small children to seniors.
The team offers eye exams to residents, many of whom are illiterate.
“A traditional Snell chart does not work, so we use a falling E chart,” Zacharko says.
The team also treats patients for pink eye, provides hats for those with cataracts and macular degeneration and brings needles and thread to test people’s near vision.
The team provides residents with donated eyeglasses, safety glasses, sunglasses and reading glasses.
Zacharko says in Canada, about three to four children in Grade 1 typically require glasses. In Haiti, about 25 out of 30 Grade 1 students need vision correction due to lack of nutrition and other factors.
While countless stories from the mission trips have touched her heart, Zacharko recalls one that she will never forget.
She met a boy who was about 14 years old and had never had glasses before.
He told Zacharko that he couldn’t see the trees.
The vision care team was able to find glasses to correct the boy’s vision.
“He stood before me crying with tears of joy. A huge smile on his face. He could see the trees. But ‘wow, I can see the leaves on the trees too.’ He couldn’t believe it. He gave me a big hug and was so overwhelmed,” she says.
“What you realize is it is not just about the glasses. It is about the people. You come and show love, that you care. You give them a reason to live and try and hope for their future. Many of them have told me I give them a reason to live. That is so powerful. Think about that for a minute.”
Eye care services also paves the way for people to find jobs because they can now see well enough to sew, do woodwork and harvest crops.
This, in turn, allows the adults to better provide for their families.
While on the mission trips, Zacharko says she also trains the locals to help each other.
“Each trip I teach the nuns how to treat and test small things. We leave all our extra supplies there so they have use of Snell charts. The foundation has worked to build a building to serve the population and run clinics more often throughout the year. Also bringing optical equipment like auto refractors and lensometers to leave there so they can learn it and serve their own population,” she says.
“Education is key. They also need to learn how to protect their eyes and prevention will help future generations.”