L’Occitane Philippines and The Fred Hollows Foundation celebrated World Sight Day last Oct. 10 by holding free eye screenings at Rustan’s Department Store in Shangri-La Plaza.
The Fred Hollows Foundation was founded in Australia 25 years ago by ophthalmologist Fred Hollows and his wife Gabi. The foundation continues to fulfill his mission of working toward a world where no person is unnecessarily blind. The foundation, which operates in 25 countries, has been in the Philippines for five years now.
“Our aim is to eliminate avoidable blindness,” said Mardi Mapa-Suplido, country manager of The Fred Hollows Foundation Philippines. “The number of blind people all over the world and in the Philippines is very high—253 million people are visually impaired, and the saddest thing about that is four out of five don’t have to be.”
Some people don’t know that the cataracts that make it difficult for them to see can be fixed with a 30-minute surgery, said Mapa-Suplido.
Caring for sight has been one of L’Occitane’s advocacies for the past two decades. The beauty brand’s L’Occitane Foundation is part of the Union for Vision 10by20 program and works with NGOs all over the world. Their objective is to provide eye care for 10 million people by 2020. They’re well on their way, having helped over 8 million beneficiaries so far.
L’Occitane chair and CEO Reinold Geiger also spearheaded the initiative to include braille on their packaging when he joined the company in 1996. “The idea was for inclusion, to allow all of our customers to experience our products,” said Anna Grape, L’Occitane’s education manager in the Philippines. “Two percent of the cost of our production is the cost to putting braille on our packaging, but we are so committed to it.”
This is the second year of the partnership between L’Occitane and The Fred Hollows Foundation. In 2018, free screenings were held outside the L’Occitane store in Glorietta on World Sight Day.
Mapa-Suplido said, “We were surprised. Some were 40, 50 years old and they were having their eyes checked for the first time.”
This year, they are working together on a project called Close the Gap, which aims to improve the eye health of indigenous children and youth. They’ve done it successfully in Surigao del Norte and are now working in four provinces: Oriental Mindoro, Negros Oriental, Antique and Quezon.
L’Occitane division manager Katherine Maclang said, “Because of cultural, geographic, and economic barriers, indigenous communities are disadvantaged when it comes to accessing proper eye health. In one of the communities we recently supported, the last time an eye doctor had visited them was in 1995.”
According to Mapa-Suplido, one out of four indigenous people has a problem with their eyesight. Blindness is six times more common while cataracts are 12 times more common in indigenous Filipinos compared to non-indigenous Fiilipinos. She said, “This one is really shocking—94 percent of vision loss is preventable or treatable in these communities.”
She added, “Our funding from L’Occitane takes us the extra mile to be able to go to the indigenous not just to provide treatment but to provide transportation for them to get the treatment they need.”
L’Occitane continues to raise funds for the project through sales. Fans of the brand can help by purchasing a set of five L’Occitane products—lotion, shampoo, conditioner, body gel and soap—for P495. The sets would make great Christmas gifts, said Grape.
Individuals can also help the foundation by donating eyeglass frames (even used ones) or cash. P500 will give one child access to eyeglasses.