The Carousel talks to Dr James Muecke, the 2020 Australian of the Year, about his passion for fighting blindnesss and how it’s become a family affair.
Thirteen years ago, James and Mena Muecke founded the non-profit eye healthcare charitable organisation Sight For All, with a vision to help fight blindness in developing countries and Australian aboriginal communities and to raise awareness of various forms of eye disease.
At the same time, Mena gave up her flourishing interior design career to join her husband’s philanthropic quest. With their shared passion, the Adelaide dynamic duo along with the Sight For All team and their two sons are improving the lives of 500,000 people across developing Asia who would otherwise spend their lives in darkness.
We sat down with James to find out more about the charity and how he juggles family life while saving the world from blindness.
James, Can you tell us how Sight For All was formed?
In 2007 a few colleagues and I traveled to Myanmar to conduct research into childhood blindness. The findings we found were concerning and I was affected deeply by what I saw.
Being surrounded by young children who were blind due to complications from measles is something I can never remove from my mind. This was one of the catalysts for me and my two colleagues to establish Sight For All.
Fast forward about 13 years and we are now fighting blindness in adults and children in nine countries in Asia.
When did the charity turn into a family effort?
Not long after Sight For All was founded, my wife Mena decided to give up her interior design career to join me. Despite our vastly different careers as an eye surgeon and an interior architect, we shared a common passion for helping the less fortunate. Mena is the official Event Director of Sight For All and her designer eye is an invaluable asset to the charity. She has brought a fresh perspective to our fundraising and marketing and has created several unique and beautiful events such as Sculpture For Sight and The Very Slow Long Lunch. Her efforts have helped raise more than $5 million for ophthalmic training and equipment.
I have heard that your children have also followed your philanthropic footsteps?
Yes, it appears the keen eye for humanitarian work seems to be running in the family! My two boys have helped Mena and myself on a number of voluntary projects in developing countries.
My eldest son Nick, 24, came with me on a trip to collect genetic samples from blind children during a study undertaken at the School for the Blind in Vientiane, Laos in 2013.
My 21-year-old, Tom, has also helped on projects and travelled with me to Myanmar in February to assist in the training of healthcare workers in regional areas in the use of diagnostic ophthalmic equipment.
How do you juggle family life with so little time left?
I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy. Especially with the lack of sleep we all no doubt experience. I think it’s important to have time together as a family. We enjoy being curled up in front of the TV watching the latest Netflix series as much as we do exploring the world together on one of Sight For All’s many projects.
Despite our vastly different interests – me as an eye surgeon, Mena as a former interior designer, Nick as a budding film director and Tom wanting to pursue a career in medicine – we all work very well together. I honestly can’t think of a better way to unite a family than to work towards a common goal – that is bettering the lives of others.
Find out more about Sight For All, here.