Dr. Simon Holland - A Lifetime of Service

March 2020

Having been part of more than 100 Orbis Flying Eye Hospital programs in his 35 years plus with Orbis, both as a staff member and a volunteer, Dr. Simon Holland has many stories to share.

Returning to Thailand ten years after completing an Orbis training program in the country in 1982, Dr. Simon Holland was nervous. The Vancouver-based eye surgeon had been part of a team that visited the country to try to increase the capacity of Thai doctors to perform retina surgery. At the time, there were only two cities in the entire country where these types of procedures could be performed. The government of Thailand had invited Orbis to train more doctors in order to open provincial clinics across the country.

Now, ten years later, Holland was returning with auditors from the sponsoring agency to evaluate the results of that initial program, and he wasn’t sure what to expect. He had no reason to worry. At the very first provincial centre they visited, he walked into the operating room and found one of the doctors who had been trained a decade earlier in the process of training a Thai doctor on retina surgery.

It was very humbling to see that going on. The training never seems to end. It just keeps getting passed on in ever-increasing circles of knowledge. I had trepidation going in, wondering if we did make a big difference in these countries. And I think we did.

Dr. Simon Holland

Orbis Volunteer Faculty

Having been part of more than 100 Orbis Flying Eye Hospital programs in his 35 years plus with the organization, both as a staff member and a volunteer, Holland has many of these stories to share. He has been buoyed not only by the transformations in the lives of those who receive an Orbis surgery, but also by the impact of the training he has participated in.

Slideshow: Dr. Holland mentors local eye health professionals during a Flying Eye Hospital program in Syria in 2011.

The real message of Orbis is how we can inspire, change and improve the world’s systems for eye care, and for supporting new ventures and exploring new possibilities. The real essence of Orbis is that it’s just a phenomenal training and inspiration machine that works on many different levels.

Holland, who began work with Orbis shortly after starting his career as an eye surgeon, knows he has been very fortunate. It is part of what drives him to give back through Orbis programs. Originally from Zimbabwe, he had to leave the country in order to receive the training he needed. Returning to his homeland, which has dealt with considerable economic and political unrest, was his goal, but in the end not the path he chose.

“I struggled to try and get further training. I got very lucky, but most people don’t get that opportunity to get outside their country and see things that are going on elsewhere,” he says. “Orbis is helping to change that. I’ve seen so many younger doctors and nurses and technicians in other countries whose only opportunity to see what’s going on outside their country would be contact with a group like Orbis.”

Now a celebrated surgeon who has received many accolades for his work with Orbis and in his community in British Columbia - including winning the 2019 Jan G.F. Worst Medal - Holland gives much of the credit for his success with Orbis to the organization’s staff and the many people he has trained around the world.

Quick to downplay his own contributions, he is happy to celebrate the work of others. This is perhaps one of the greatest strengths he has brought to his career—understanding that true societal change is not possible without teamwork.