Alberto da Costa Flores spent three months last year at the Pacific Eye Institute learning how to plan, implement and manage high quality eye care services for communities in his home country of Timor-Leste.
Alberto's journey to start his studies was both dramatic and life changing.
In June Alberto was forced to flee Timor as his life was in danger - he had been threatened and feared for his safety. His family had to move to a refugee camp at Dili International Airport.
Although conditions were bad, he tried to remain hopeful about the future, as it had already been confirmed that he would train at the Pacific Eye Institute with the support of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.
Luckily The Foundation managed to secure him a plane ticket - at very short notice - to start his studies early and to escape the worry of his personal situation in Timor.
Alberto has been involved with eye health for two years, first working in a survey team to find out the levels of blindness in Timor-Leste and then making and prescribing spectacles at Dili National Hospital. Together with two colleagues he formed Fo Naroman Timor-Leste last year to help fight the terrible levels of blindness in his country, which was emerging as a new nation after a terrible conflict.
Timor-Leste is just about the poorest country on earth, with many challenges for health care. Inadequately trained and equipped doctors and very limited investment in eye care in the past has led to a backlog of approximately 10,000 people blind with cataracts, which is growing daily, and about 45,000 who have poor vision that affects their independence.
Alberto has trained to be an ‘outreach coordinator' for Fo Naroman Timor-Leste, so that he can go into the community, test people's vision and provide spectacles to those that need these. He also educates people how to prevent eye infections and disease.
Much of his work at present is testing vision in the refugee camps around the capital Dili and taking patients into the hospital in Dili to get the cataract operations that will allow them to live independently again. The situation is dangerous but Alberto knows it is work that has to be done.
Alberto is driven by the need for his people to have decent eye care. He remembers trying to convince his grandfather to have a cataract operation when his sight became too weak for him to be able to look after his goats.
"Often people are worried that the operation might not be successful, as in the past some cataract surgeries in my country did not give people very good vision. So improving the quality of surgery is very important. That is why high quality training for eye doctors and nurses, such as that given by the Pacific Eye Institute, is so important to our region.
"And it's also important that we get out into the isolated rural communities, as this is where the real need is," says Alberto.