Joel Edgerton, star of The Great Gatsby, recently visited Nepal to help raise awareness about the work of The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Edgerton visited an eye camp conducted by The Foundation’s Nepalese partner organisation, the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology. Over a few days Dr Sanduk Ruit and his team helped restore sight to more than 200 patients, working to carry out high quality eye operations in a temporary operating theatre set up in a local school.

While he was visiting the eye camp Joel Edgerton took time out to answer a few questions about his involvement with the work of The Fred Hollows Foundation:

Question: Why did you decide to become an Ambassador for The Fred Hollows Foundation?

Joel Edgerton: I’m very passionate about what’s going on with The Fred Hollows Foundation, not just here in Nepal – I’m very interested in what’s going on in Australia and other countries.

There’s something very special about the organisation of personnel here, it’s a very thorough organisation that is not just trying to tackle the problem on one level, but it’s trying to tackle the problem by setting up an ongoing infrastructure, which I think is really important.

I think that’s what Fred Hollows really stands for and I think that’s what the work in Nepal here is really showing - there’s a sense of not just looking at the problem of blindness and trying to fix individuals, but to train and educate communities, to train doctors, not just here but around the world, to then go out and continue the work so that the word grows outwards, to the point where it becomes an unstoppable force in a way. 

Question: How would you describe the approach of the late Australian eye doctor Fred Hollows?

Joel Edgerton: He was just a good man, a good doctor, and an adventurous one – someone who went outside the usual kind of boundaries, was a little bit fearless, and in a true sense, put the health of other people ahead of his own ambition, and I think had an incredibly strong ambition himself, to make a real difference.

I kind of look at Fred as a real pioneer, and as an adventurer, and as someone who’s incredibly fearless.  He’s a very special guy. And I think that his qualities live on here through Dr Ruit. And I think those two were very special friends and colleagues and I know that a lot of Fred’s kind of spirit and who he was, you hear it in Dr Ruit in the way that Dr Ruit thinks of Fred and their time together.

Question: Can you describe what is going on at this eye camp?

Joel Edgerton: Well we arrived here about three days ago and the camp had already been set up – it’s been set up in a series of buildings here just about five or six rooms in a row.

Dr Ruit is in the far room, but there’s a process which everybody’s going through. They first arrive and the paperwork starts with them getting checked in and screened, they’ll go through the process of a simple kind of eye test, then they’ll get their eyes tested further by someone in this first room, and the process becomes more and more detailed as they work out which patients need surgery and which patients need to be earmarked for future camps.

And those that are selected for surgery will stay here and cue up literally as they go in for roughly five minute operations with Dr Ruit. And there’s a second team of surgeons, trainees from Ethiopia and also a trainee surgeon from Indonesia who have been doing surgeries as well.

"But I think Dr Ruit did about 70 surgeries yesterday, he’ll do another 70 today, and he did 30 the first day. There was an expectation that there’d be about 200 surgeries done over the course of the two or three days, and that kind of quickly ballooned up I think to 250 and maybe a little bit beyond that today." 

Question: Can you talk about meeting Dr Ruit?

When you look at everything he’s done and his story on paper is impressive but then just to meet him as a person, he’s a very gentle person, a very good listener, he’s interested in people. It’s almost quite remarkable when you meet people like Dr Ruit - and there’s not a lot of them. It’d be great if the world was full of people like Dr Ruit - just how selfless, and how interested in helping people that he is and that he doesn’t even need to tell you that, in fact he won’t tell you that really, but you just see it in the work that he’s doing.  I find him probably one of the most special people I’ve ever met, for all of the reasons that I’ve just said.

Question: What message do you take away when you see something like this eye camp happening? 

Well I think this camp to me is really a sign that this kind of work is crucial, and I’m not just talking about eye surgery, I’m talking about the spirit that goes into an organisation or a charity or any kind of effort to make a change.

This is a really great example of how something can work really well to turn a situation around and that one individual, an individual like Fred Hollows, an individual like Doctor Ruit, can have that ambition to make a change, and it goes beyond just being an idea, it goes into being an idea that is put into practice, that is road tested and becomes a very organised effort that turns that original ambition into a reality.

And I think this is such a great example of that – organisations that don’t just start and fade away, that start and expand their efforts. So I’m very inspired by this whole situation, what I see and the people that I meet and how giving they are and selfless they are, and then being able to see the results so quickly.

"I think the beauty of what Fred was doing and what Dr Ruit is doing, is that you can meet someone today who is blind and hear their story and then wake up the next morning and see their whole life turned around."

And the part that made the most difference, physically made the most difference, was a five minute operation that happened in what otherwise is a pretty crappy little cement room that’s been decked out with portable equipment. A person has had a five minute operation that’s completely turned their life back around. And you can see the results of that so quickly, that it’s quite a joyous kind of atmosphere as well, it’s quite a feeling to witness it – it’s quite an inspiring place to be.

Question: Any final thoughts?

I guess what interests me is we’re a very lucky country in Australia, and there are a lot of lucky countries and within those lucky countries there are a lot of very privileged people. I guess in a way coming here and visiting this place and seeing what’s going on, I hope that we can share this in a way that, whether it’s The Fred Hollows Foundation, whether it’s the Tilganga Institute, or whether it’s any other organisation, there’s a great benefit to yourself by giving to other people.

The operation to restore sight to someone blinded by cataract can cost as little as $25 and be carried out in under twenty minutes. Four out of five people who are blind don’t have to be – 80% of all blindness is avoidable.

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