This article is part two in a continuing series looking closely behind the scenes of optometry student organizations through the eyes of passionate and dedicated student leaders. Kristen Kramlich, a second year student at University of Missouri-St. Louis and incoming President of Student Volunteer Services to Humanity (known as SVOSH or VOSH) shares some of her experiences planning trips, attending planning conferences, and collecting donations of glasses and money to help the trips reach and assist as many in need individuals as possible. If being at the forefront of planning excursions to less fortunate countries or learning about some of the laws and regulations governing eye care in other countries is important to you, consider a leadership position in VOSH! If you’re interested in reading about any of the other great ways to get involved while in optometry school, check out one of our other organization leadership articles.
Before optometry school, the only thing I knew about Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, or SVOSH, was that students went on mission trips around the world. I always knew I wanted a part in the organization. I became a member as a first year optometry student and was elected the representative for my class. I attended the executive board meetings and took part in many of the events and fundraisers. Last spring, I was voted the President-elect and am currently being trained for the position of SVOSH President at the University of Missouri in Saint Louis. I am so thrilled to be given the opportunity to share what SVOSH is truly all about!
VOSH International, the SVOSH parent organization, adopted the goal of establishing sustainable vision care worldwide. There are eight Chapters throughout Canada, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. There are 27 VOSH chapters in the United States. There are also 14 student chapters throughout Canada, Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Ethiopia. The United States has 19 student chapters alone. The world-wide extend of this organization makes their outreach efforts possible. Currently, VOSH collaborates with the World Health Organization to implement the “Vision 20/20: The Right to Sight” initiative. Both groups vowed to work both independently and together to eradicate preventable blindness by the year 2020. As students, our main contribution is traveling to third world clinics to provide vision care to populations in need. We donate glasses, perform eye examinations, and work with other medical professionals to provide other health care needs. These service trips provide students with an amazing opportunity to see hundreds of cases of ocular pathology in only a few days.
SVOSH assists students by providing scholarships to members that choose to go on trips. Year-round, our efforts are centered on both collecting donated glasses for trips as well as fundraising for the scholarship fund. Leadership roles in SVOSH are absolutely necessary in executing these goals. At UMSL, we collect glasses throughout the year, then clean, neutralize, and organize them by power. These glasses will either be taken on our own trips or donated to other mission trips. The glasses that cannot be donated are sold to ReSpecs and recycled as another source of scholarship money. The student organizations also hold numerous philanthropy events to raise money for scholarships. Perhaps the most important aspect of SVOSH, and a large responsibility to the executive board, is maintaining contact with VOSH leaders, clinic site doctors, and other philanthropy organizations. Larger optometry colleges have their own sustainable mission trips, but for many of the smaller optometry colleges like UMSL, we collaborate with other organizations and join their trips. Some of these organizations include OneSight, VOSH Texas, VOSH Illinois, VOSH Pennsylvania, I-Care International, and HIS Vision. To maintain contact with VOSH International, our SVOSH president and president-elect are also strongly encouraged to attend the annual conference, which I was able to do this past year in Puerto Rico.
From left to right: Emily Heard (UMSL, c/o 2015), Amy Walsh (UMSL, c/o 2015), Dr. Ellis Potter (VOSH International President), Kristen Kramlich (UMSL, c/o 2016) at this year’s VOSH International national conference
Being a leader in the SVOSH organization is fantastic! SVOSH is so easy to be passionate about. As an optometry student, we are able to provide sight to people who may have no other options. It is incredibly rewarding to know that we are part of an organization that puts no one but the patients first and is always working for the greater good. Feel free to share your experiences with SVOSH in the comments below!