For the past eight years Golden optometrist Dr. Rebecca Kolbenson has been travelling to remote parts of the world to provide optometry services for those in need.
This year, Kolbenson will be travelling to the northern Indian state of Sarurpur Kalan to volunteer at the Maya Devi Hospital with her husband Dr. Shane Van Biezen, who will be providing dental care as well. The hospital is sponsored by Rotary in Calgary and was selected by the organization Change for Children, which is based out of Edmonton.
“They just need that first stepping stone so they can figure out what they need,” said Kolbenson. “There’s an ophthalmologist there providing free cataract surgery for those who need it, so we have a limited time to get as many people in there that need the care.”
Originally, the trips through Change for Children were just for dental care, with Van Biezen working with the organization for the last six years. In the last three years, Kolbdenson came on board and added an optometry component.
It all started back in Tisdale, Sask., when Kolbenson used to travel to the northern remote communities of the province with her father to provide health care to first nations communities. It was then that she caught the bug for helping those in need.
For Van Biezen, it came when he earned a scholarship to Ecuador while he was in dental school.
“It was a lot of great experience, but I also really enjoyed being able to take my skill set and what I’ve learned to teach other people,” said Van Biezen. “To help other people, not only in our community, but in other areas, is really rewarding, which is why I keep going back year-after-year.”
According to Kolbenson, often the communities that they go to have been left behind by their government, which isn’t providing services that were promised. When her and Van Biezen come to town, it gives them a starting point on which to build a sustainable healthcare system by assessing the needs of the community.
Often Change for Children will send a team of people a year or so later to follow up with the community to make sure that progress is being made and to re-assess their needs.
While the two of them will be far from home, a part of Golden comes with them through the form of donations. The Rotary Club and Lions Club both help cover some of the costs for things like glasses and eye drops. Residents of Golden can help support the trip by donating old glasses.
“We’re so thankful that everyone in the community helps out and donates these things,” said Van Biezen. “We’re just happy to be able to have the skills to show these people that we care.”
While the trips may be for business, Kolbenson and Van Biezen see it as more than that. For them, it’s a privilege to be welcomed into these communities and to meet the locals and hear their stories.
“Just being immersed in the culture, they take you into the community and they’re so grateful you’re there,” said Kolbenson. “They’re so appreciative that we’re trying to build something sustainable and lasting.”
The pair will be leaving on Feb. 14, and will be back by Feb. 25. Travel takes up to two days and they will have four-and-a-half days of clinical service work in Sarurpur Kalan.