The impact of COVID-19 on my volunteer assignment with the Eye Care Foundation

The impact of COVID-19 on my Australian Volunteers for International Development assignment with the Eye Care Foundation

By Marguerite Goulding, volunteer ECF Cambodia

When the directive came for those of us on assignment with Australian Volunteers for International Development Program to be ‘repatriated’ back to Australia as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 I was devastated. I have been working with the Eye Care Foundation (ECF) based in the Phnom Penh, Cambodia office for 18 months and planned to be there for at least another year. Admittedly my immediate response to the directive to return home was self-indulgent – I was not ready to leave my ECF colleagues/ family, or the broader eye health sector partners with whom I have developed valuable relationships, or my job as Program Development Mentor. My departure was swift with no time to farewell those who are part of my treasured network in Cambodia. I cried – a lot!!!

Now I have had time to reflect on my initial reaction and the fact that I am extremely fortunate. I am safely in lockdown in the comfort of the home of a very caring friend in Canberra, Australia. My focus has turned to communities where ECF has been supporting the most vulnerable populations to access life-changing eye health services. ECF has made significant contributions to improving the quality of eye health and increasing the number of beneficiaries receiving sight-restoration surgery particularly cataract operations. There are no words to describe the reaction of patients the day after surgery when the bandages are removed and they can see again. I have had the privilege to witness that reaction. ECF is one of the few organisations that work in the most remote and disadvantaged locations.

I know at ECF, through the generosity of donors and hard work of our teams, we are making a difference. There is still so much to do. An estimated 60,000+ people are waiting for surgery in Cambodia. My wish is that ECF continues with this life-changing work for the poorest populations and that I can return to Cambodia to be part of the exceptional journey to make a difference in the lives of many more people. May we also embrace this unprecedented global challenge as an opportunity to maintain and strengthen international relations.