International Women’s Day Spotlight: Alexandria Sham

For International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting some of the incredible women who give their time and expertise to support Orbis Canada. Like Board member Alexandria Sham from Calgary, Alberta, who is helping involve the Chinese-Canadian community in the fight against avoidable blindness.

When Alexandria Sham saw the Mighty Planes episode about the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital on the Discovery Channel, she admits her husband, who has a passion for aviation, was more interested than she was. But when she met Orbis Canada CEO, Lisa McKeen, at an event to celebrate the Chinese panda visit to the Calgary Zoo, she learned so much more about Orbis and the Flying Eye Hospital – and she was hooked.

A few months later, she was able to actually join the team for a flight on the Flying Eye Hospital from Dayton, Ohio to Seattle, Washington, during visits to airshows in those cities. Being able to experience the plane in such a hands-on way, including being there for the packing up and set-up portions, was a revelation to Sham. She also took the time to learn more about the work Orbis was doing around the world.

Sham works as a Platinum Insurance Advisor for RBC Insurance in Calgary. She is also very community-focused through her heavy involvement with the Hong Kong Canada Business Association where she has served as President of the Calgary section, as well as National Chair, and now as the elected Vice-Chair of the Federation of Hong Kong Business Associations Worldwide.

Having experienced eye issues in the past that left her temporarily unable to work and needing to use her disability benefits, learning about Orbis’s work resonated strongly with Sham and only strengthened her desire to help others.

Alexandria Sham

I read­i­ly have access to oph­thal­mol­o­gy, so I was able to get in very quick­ly for my own eye prob­lem. But there are peo­ple around the world who don’t have access to eye health,” she says. It real­ly struck a chord with me and I knew I want­ed to be involved.”

As someone with a background in finance and a specialty in disability insurance and protecting income, Sham was particularly interested when she learned about the economic cost of vision loss. “In some countries, if it's the woman who loses her eyesight, it is much more detrimental to the entire family,” she says. “The women are picking the tea leaves as the primary income earner; they're most likely looking after aging parents and they're probably looking after their children as well. So, the economic factor of a woman losing her eyesight really multiplies to not only financial welfare but social and family welfare too – this really resonated with me.”

Alexandria Sham and her husband pcitured with Dr. Hunter Cherwek, Orbis's Vice President of Clinical Services & Technologies, during the Flying Eye Hospital visit to Ottawa in 2019.

Since getting involved with Orbis in 2018, Sham has made a huge contribution through her energy and dedication to the cause. Having participated in the Orbis Plane Pull for Sight event, she found that the pivot to virtual in 2020 actually increased the number of participants and donors she could engage. She had both a family team, “See You Soon”, and her teams at RBC Insurance. This helped her to raise more than $20,000 for the organization. “I’ve got such generous friends and family who not only participated on the team, but helped spread the word about Orbis—because we all have eyes and we can all relate to a possible loss of sight,” she says. “With my family team, we even had family members from China, from Shanghai, from the U.S., Hong Kong, and across Canada, all donating to our team and supporting such an important cause.”

Moving forward, Sham is excited about the future of Orbis Canada and her role at the table. She is pleased to see Canadian programs starting to develop and hopes to continue to engage the business community in the work of the organization.

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