UNHCR and Fuji Optical mark 20 years of visionary partnership

News Stories, 11 June 2004

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
Seeing eye to eye on partnership &; High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers with Fuji Optical President Dr. Akio Kanai in Geneva.

GENEVA, June 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency today commemorated 20 years of partnership with Fuji Optical, which runs a programme that has helped tens of thousands of refugees around the world to improve their vision.

On Friday, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers met with the President of Fuji Optical, Dr. Akio Kanai, in Geneva to express his gratitude for the company's long-term support towards refugees.

"The missions give us a tremendous sense of satisfaction," said Dr Kanai. "It opens a new world to us. Staff come back thinking they have to work harder to do more for the refugees next time. Money cannot buy that valuable experience."

Dr. Kanai and his team have just returned from a week-long mission to Armenia, where they tested the vision of 1,022 refugees and donated 3,000 pairs of eye glasses, ophthalmic frames, hearing-aid units and medical equipment for vision.

"Some of them have never had the experience of seeing clearly," Dr. Kanai's son, Hiromasa, said of the recent mission. "When I gave them glasses for the first time, they started to cry, and hugged and kissed me. The reaction was immediate."

This operation is the latest in the long-standing relationship between UNHCR and Fuji Optical. The company has been donating optometric equipment and training medical staff since 1984, beginning with assistance to Indo-Chinese refugees in Thailand. After 10 years of support to refugees in Thailand, annual Vision Aid Missions have assisted the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and the Azerbaijani refugees in Armenia.

In all three countries, Fuji Optical replicated its mission on an annual basis until the needs for vision screening were exhausted. The repeat missions also help to build capacity with a local non-governmental organisation over time.

Friday's meeting at UNHCR headquarters was focused on identifying a new location for subsequent Vision Aid Missions.

Between 1984 and June 2004, a total of 94,187 pairs of glasses were donated. This in-kind contribution represents over $1 million worth of goods and services. Thousands of refugees in several countries are now able to realise everyday tasks that used to be impossible to accomplish due to poor vision.

For years, Hamlet Mirzoyan thought his son was blind. But when the Fuji Optical team visited Armenia, the boy was diagnosed with strong myopia, a condition that was treated with prescription glasses sent from Japan.

"What you have done for us and that you usually do for mankind is immeasurable," wrote Mirzoyan in a letter of appreciation to Dr Kanai. "I am sure that everyone you help, be they in Thailand or Poland, Bhutan or Armenia, will always remember you, Doctor, dedicatedly providing humanitarian services to poor people all over the world."