Five years ago, a Slippery Rock University professor took a DNA test and found out she was 50 percent Nigerian. Before going to the country to reconnect with her roots, she had a feeling she should bring eye glasses with her. This feeling has been supported by students, friends and strangers and is now a 501 C3, an official nonprofit organization.
“Eyes4Africa is a nonprofit organization that was founded by Dr. Michelle McCollin who works in the special education departments on campus,” Emma Martin, a senior music therapy major and service vice president of Gamma Sigma Sigma said. She personally takes eye glasses and shoes to people in Nigeria and around the country and administers eye clinics, Martin said.
“(Gamma Sigma Sigma) got involved because last semester I was in Dr. McCollins class and she mentioned her organization I just immediately thought that it was something my sorority could get involved in since we are a volunteer organization,” Martin said. “We talked a little and originally just talked about us coming to her house and cleaning and packaging the glasses.”
Then, Martin discovered one of her sorority sister had about four boxes of glasses to donate to Eyes4Africa, after the girl’s brother had collected them for a previous project.
“Dr. McCollin will be taking a sabbatical next semester in Vietnam, but my sorority will still be doing collections while she is gone,” Martin said.
Dr. McCollin says many students have been involved in the nonprofit organization.
“My classes have been involved. Gamma Sigma Sigma as well as Phi Delta Kappa have adopted Eyes4Africa as their charity. Last semester, Gamma Sigma Sigma came over to my home and we were packaging glasses and they ended up donating about 1200 pairs,” McCollin said. Other organization on campus, such as Autism Speaks, have also contributed.
McCollin shared how the organization all really started after she went on her first trip to Nigeria.
“I had the feeling I needed to take eye glasses and shoes. God kind of just spoke to me, you know, you get these messages,” McCollin shared. “And I’m like ‘You know, I don’t have space for shoes or eye glasses.’ So I took about 40 pairs of each,” McCollin laughed. She gave them out like candy, she said.
The first year, McCollin brought about 40 pairs of each. The second time around, with help of friends, she brought about 600 pairs of glasses. This past summer, the organization brought 5,000 pairs of glasses.
“(Eyes4Africa) is very, very organic. Even the name just came up organically because we were helping with vision and we not only focus on Africa but the Caribbean as well. I call it my sacred service. It’s what I do to give back to humanity for all the blessings that I have,” McCollin said.
When McCollin visits Africa, she has contacts there that help her find a place to stay, whether it is someone’s home or a hotel. She conducts eye clinics that serve almost 200 people a day. Last summer, they tested about 5,000 people, ranging from children to elders. They also have tests for those who speak English and those who do not.
“I think what is amazing is that this is very much a grassroots organization. It started with me, one person, and now it has spread out to my students and friends and people I don’t even know on the internet who have assisted us in changing the world one person at a time,” McCollin said.
“Whatever you have a passion for, is your calling. If your passion is helping children, or the elderly, or the environment, follow it because you can turn that passion into a wonderful organization that can change the lives of people,” McCollin said.