Vision Express

Glasgow student treats 1,500 during ‘challenging but fulfilling’ two-week volunteer mission in South Africa backed by Vision Express

Press release   •   Jul 04, 2016 10:19 BST

Glaswegian Samantha Davidson, an optical assistant for Vision Express, has returned from South Africa after treating 1,500 people in two weeks – an experience she describes as being “challenging but fulfilling”.

A member of a volunteer mission on the Phelophepa Train of Hope in South Africa, Samantha said working at Vision Express Buchanan Galleries store was crucial preparation for the project, developing her customer service skills and helping her appreciate what she has at home.

She said: “We’re used to providing a range of lenses from individual prescriptions to customers at Vision Express, but on the train there was a limited collection available. This meant our patients didn’t get tailored treatment - we had to make do and adapt. This was one of the biggest learning curves.

“Moving forward in my career, this experience will help me adjust how I handle the bespoke needs of my patients, in a way that is not always easily replicated. For instance, managing to overcome language barriers to help others.”

The work environment was predictably different as ten optometry students worked across four test rooms inside the train and six outside.

The Train of Hope initiative saw Samantha jet off to Johannesburg, where her journey began on the custom-built Phelophepa Health Care Train, which stopped at rural locations across South Africa including Vryburg and Delareyville.

Samantha described one of her most memorable moments when an elderly lady with cataracts in both eyes boarded in Vryburg: “To start off with she struggled to see the biggest ‘E’ on the chart and quite often this disheartened patients, however after conducting some tests with lenses, she could identify many more characters.

“So often, I found, you are left feeling helpless when none of the train’s services are able to help someone whose vision is past saving or even helped by glasses, but the smile on her face and her excitement when she was able to read down the chart made my trip.”

The train has been operating for almost 20 years with a team of full-time professionals and volunteers delivering health services to remote areas of the country, supporting communities who don’t have access to healthcare services.

What initially started out as only eye clinic coaches in 1994, today offers an impressive fully-fitted train to provide more comprehensive primary healthcare, dental, ophthalmic and psychological services as well as education and outreach programmes.

After finding out about the Train of Hope through university lecturers, Samantha and three other third year optometry students from her course seized the opportunity to extend their clinical skills and help others in need of urgent care.

Samantha said: “I would highly recommend this experience to any optometry student who gets the chance to take part, particularly if you want to make a difference in the world and get practical hands-on experience that you might not get anywhere else. I felt the work we did was so needed and valued, I feel like we’ve made a difference”.

To read more about Samantha’s experience on the Train of Hope, visit

Vision Express offers an eye test to best practice guidelines of the College of Optometrists (COO), with each Vision Express optometrist being a qualified eye health professional. To book an eye test visit the Vision Express store at Unit 10-11 Buchanan Galleries, Glasgow, call 0141 333 9212 or visit

About Vision Express

Vision Express is the third largest optical retailer in the UK and part of GrandVision,the global leader in optical retail operating across 43 countries, spanning over 5,800 stores and online.

With more than 390 stores nationwide, Vision Express first opened its doors in Newcastle in 1988. Built on a passion for the profession, it has gone from strength to strength, driven by a commitment to unparalleled customer service and providing the best individual optical care, the right product and great value. Customers can select from a vast range of genuine designer brands and the latest technology lenses, through to complete glasses from £39.

Vision Express is considered one of the leading and most trusted opticians in the UK and Ireland, with its European offering supported through sister eye care brands Grand Optical, Solaris and Generale D'Optique.

With around 4,000 employees, Vision Express makes a significant difference to the communities it operates within, and the organisations it chooses to support. As part of its commitment to Vision. Taken Seriously, and as a responsible and caring retailer, Vision Express is proud to partner with a range of healthcare charities, which have touched the lives of customers and teams. These companies provide vital support to people affected by vision-related conditions. They are part of the Vision Express Charitable Partnerships and include: