The Rose Charities Sight Center has been operating since 1998 and has, in that time established its position as one of the leading sight restoration, blindness prevention and eye care centers in Cambodia. Knowing the name Rose Charities, patients travel from all over Cambodia for consultations from founder Dr Hang Vra, his wife Dr Natalia Vra, and the medical/surgical/ and optometric team.
Dr Hang Vra himself is somewhat of a local hero. In 2002, the Center was looted and vandalized by an expatriate crook leaving nothing but bare walls. Poor desperate people with eye disease however continued to arrive at the door seeking treatment. Instead of simply giving up, Dr Vra came day after day to console them and promise them that in time he would help them. His act of compassion defied the bullying violence of the looting and inspired horrified donors the world over to reach again into their pockets to rebuild what had been lost. Through this, the whole of Rose Charities survived and grew to the worldwide network it is today.
The Sight Center today carries out around 2000 operations per year, most of them sight restorations or preventions of blindness. Apart from eye surgery and medical care , the center also has a refraction and optometry unit which provides glasses at very low cost, or free, to needy patients.
Paramount in the development of the center has been the input of overseas experts, particularly from Nepal and New Zealand. Rose Charities in Cambodia (the first location of its existence) arose from Project IRIS, an organization founded byMs Michele Claudel (France), Dr William Grut (Canada/UK) and Mr John Stewart (UK/France), and Dr’s Basant Raj Sharma and Bal Kumar Khatri Chetri (and others) of Nepal. Rose initially was a division of IRIS (irisasia.org) , a unit to include surgery other than eyes as well though became independent when two of the three original directors opted for it to do so. The new organization was then registered in B.C. Canada in May 1999.
Dr Basant Sharma, now a Director of the renowned Lumbini Eye Institute in Nepal has continued to assist, advise, and make teaching visits to the Sight Center to this day and has informally been pivotal in many of the decisions which have contributed to it success. In 2005, Mr John Veale, Optometry Consultant of Christchurch New Zealand, a Rose Charities NZ Trustee, made a teaching visit to the Center and with view to starting an optometry and refraction facility. On return he introduced Dr David Sabiston (an old colleague of the famous Dr Fred Hollows) and Mr Mike Webber both of NZ to the facility and all have continued this day to give enormous help to the services. Not only did they establish the optometry services but also have taught, provided high quality equipment and helped fund is running. Mike Webber also provided considerable input into the ICEE (Intl Cente for Eye Education) refraction training course founded in Cambodia now well established.
Other members of IRIS Nepal have been of kind assistance also in advice etc, but it is Dr Vra and his wife Natalia who have ensured the Center is what it is today through their tireless, devoted work, at times under very difficult circumstances and difficult conditions. Originally training in the Ukraine, (where Natalia Vra is from) Dr Hang Vra is now one of Cambodia’s leading eye Consultants and a member of the Ophtalmological Association of Cambodia.
The Sight Center originally had several vehicles for outreach but these were all lost in the looting and never able to be recovered. (Equipment donated by the Kadoorie Foundation of Hongkong and several Embassies were also irrevocably lost). Though this prevented outreach program work such was the reputation that the patients instead started to come to the Center instead. This has continued to this day. Around 12000 to 15000 consultations a year are performed and around 2000 operations
The Sight Center lies within the National Rehabilitation Center compound of the Ministry of Social Affairs. It operates however under the permission of the Ministry of Health and is a supporting member of the National Subcommittee for the Prevention of Blindness in Cambodia (SCBL). Patients coming for consultations can number around 100 per day and 10 or more operations may be carried out in any 24 hour period. Patients of all ages are treated, though the prevalence of eye disease, especially cataracts is greater with age.