Scrub Cap Sales Support Eye Care for Refugees

Recently, members of the Orbis Future Vision Leaders and the University of Saskatchewan’s Ophthalmology Interest group partnered on a unique fundraiser to help raise much-needed funds for Orbis.

Led by fourth-year medical student, Malshi Karunatilake, funds raised are being directed towards an Orbis project in Bangladesh that is providing free cataract surgeries to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar. The project is also generously supported by OBAT Canada, an Ottawa-based organization dedicated to providing access to basic human needs, health care and quality education for impoverished communities in South Asia and Canada.

Karunatilake had been looking for ways to support Orbis since learning about the Orbis Future Vision Leaders program and getting involved with the group. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, where both of her parents are physicians, she had seen firsthand how much of a difference access to ophthalmology services could have in a community.

During the civil war in Sri Lanka, vision care was a luxury for a lot of patients and ophthalmology was not available in her family’s community. Understanding this, her mother, a family physician, took the initiative to run the urgent eye centre at the local hospital. Karunatilake often spent time there after school. “I particularly remember one elderly woman who was at the centre. She relied on her granddaughter to even come through the doors because of what I now know are hypermature cataracts,” Karunatilake says. “I saw the impact that untreated cataracts can have on someone’s quality of life. So when I became part of Orbis, and they had this initiative for Rohingya refugees, that really sparked my interest.”

Malshi as a child with her parents in Sri Lanka.

Knowing how important access to eye care can be, and learning how limited access is to the Rohingya people living in Cox’s Bazar, Karunatilake took the idea for the fundraiser back to her fellow students and they started brainstorming. “We were trying to think of different ways to get people's attention, especially in the student body, in order to raise awareness and raise funds. Scrub caps was something that was a very popular idea, because we were either shadowing or going through clinical electives, and we always admired the residents and the unique patterns they had on.”

In order to create new and interesting designs that would entice students to purchase them, fellow fourth-year medical student Marlize Hipwell, offered to create a number of unique and fun options. “All the recognition should go to her for her incredible effort and the time she took to do this,” says Karunatilake, noting that her classmate made all of the items they sold. “I put together a little catalog that people can browse through and we had lots of orders come in.” Hipwell then made the scrub caps and Karunatilake managed deliveries.

Malshi Karunatilake

MD Candidate, University of Saskatchewan & Orbis Future Vision Leader

Med­ical school is very inten­sive, espe­cial­ly when it comes to third and fourth years. It’s a lot of work for sure. But I think it real­ly brings mean­ing to the hard work when we are also part of our com­mu­ni­ties and tak­ing on these ini­tia­tives. As med­ical stu­dents we should uti­lize our plat­form and voic­es to address com­mu­ni­ty health needs.”

The team effort paid off and the group have already raised close to $400 for Orbis. Karunatilake hopes that their success will inspire other medical students to get involved and hold their own fundraisers in support of Orbis.

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