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Utah kids' eye care charity expanding to Mali, Africa

Optician Tawna O'Reilly helps Oscar Rodriguez, 8, with his glasses during Eye Care 4 Kids’ mobile clinic event outside Merit Medical on April 21, 2018, in South Jordan. Next month, the Utah-based nonprofit will take its first steps to open internationally, with a new clinic in Mali, Africa, to deliver eye care to kids around the African continent.

Optician Tawna O'Reilly helps Oscar Rodriguez, 8, with his glasses during Eye Care 4 Kids’ mobile clinic event outside Merit Medical on April 21, 2018, in South Jordan. Next month, the Utah-based nonprofit will take its first steps to open internationally, with a new clinic in Mali, Africa, to deliver eye care to kids around the African continent. (Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – Joseph Carbone is going on another mission.

But he's not sharing gospel messages, and there's not a two-year time frame for when he'll be done.

For Carbone, an optician, bringing glasses to some of the 500 million children worldwide without eye care is a life work. And next month, the nonprofit he started some 20 years ago, Utah-based Eye Care 4 Kids, will take the first steps to open internationally as he, along with partners, establishes a new clinic in the country of Mali in Africa and delivers care to kids around the African continent, where according to Carbone over 10 million people are in need of vision services.

"And so we have a lot of work to do. And this is my life's work, to bring to children the gift of sight to as many as I can," he said.

The Mali clinic will be just the first Eye Care 4 Kids clinic in Africa. The nonprofit also plans to open a clinic in a Catholic hospital in Kenya, which could open by 2022 or 2023. In Rwanda, the nonprofit wants to create a mobile clinic to visit the mountainous regions, where there are limited or no eye care services.

In December, Carbone and a colleague will also visit Uganda and the Nakivale Refugee Camp, which shelters thousands of refugees from around the world. He plans to give upward of 1,000 eye exams and distribute 500 glasses.

"We know this will change our lives, seeing up close and personal a refugee camp," Carbone said.

The nonprofit has already helped 400,000 children in Utah and across the U.S. Carbone has also traveled to Africa before to offer eye care to kids. But by 2025, he wants to have helped another million people through the nonprofit.

The work in Mali, including the opening of a new clinic, has been made possible with the help of Mali presidential candidate Yeah Samake, who graduated from Brigham Young University. Samake has assisted Eye Care 4 Kids with documentation, helping them be recognized in that country as a nonprofit that can operate there. Mali will serve as a "main point of transport" for the charity in Africa, Carbone said.

Though he is planning to travel with just one other employee, Carbone will receive assistance providing eye care through a partnership with Kiwanis International, a service club with workers in Africa.

Eye Care 4 Kids also partners with Essilor Vision Foundation for prescription lenses, Modern Optical International for eyeglass frames and 1-800-Contacts.

"This really is emotional for me because I'm able to realize not only my dreams but the after story, if you will, and talking to the mom of the little girl or little boy that gets the glasses," he explained.

"Moms are smart, moms know that their children are in need of things that they can't give them because of access or because of finances. And, so we feel that we team with moms, if you will, because they're the caregivers, they're the nurturers, they're the ones all day with the children. We feel partnership with moms in giving these services to their children, so it's extremely rewarding. We feel, I feel this is my ministry. This is my mission," Carbone added.

Those who want to help Eye Care 4 Kids' efforts in African can donate online at eyecare4kids.org or sighttheworld.org.

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