Thomas had always struggled with schoolwork. Dyslexia, as well as Attention Deficit Disorder, made it hard for the schoolboy from NSW to concentrate. His grades were never higher than C or D. Homework was a daily battle.
But last year, when Thomas was 12, his mother Ronelle noticed something wonderful happening. Her son started concentrating. He began studying, on his own initiative – sometimes for up to two hours a night.
The reason for this transformation was a school assignment about Fred Hollows
It began when Thomas's mum blindfolded her son, asking him to imagine what it must be like to be a blind child in Cambodia trying to fetch water. Thomas stumbled about their home, realising for the first time how precious it is to be able to see.
His interest sparked, he began researching the life of Fred Hollows. With a bit of help, he navigated his way onto The Foundation's website. Watching one of the videos of a child having his sight restored after cataract surgery had a profound effect on him.
The next week, to his mother's amazement, Thomas learnt everything he could about Fred Hollows. He familiarised himself with the technicalities of sight-saving surgery.
He memorised facts about the late Professor's life.
"I have never, ever seen Thomas work so incredibly hard on anything before,” says Ronelle.
Finally, late last year, as part of his project, Thomas managed to stand up in front of a large crowd and impersonate Fred Hollows at a school event called 'The Night of The Notables'. He donned a surgery mask, spray painted his hair grey, and began explaining the intricacies of intra-ocular lenses to teachers, parents and students – as well as his whole family.
Thomas received 49 out of 50 for the project, and continues to flourish.
His mother can't really explain how or why it happened. “I don’t know if he’ll ever get into his homework as much as he did for his Fred Hollows project, but he is settling into high school remarkably well. I'm receiving lots of positive feedback from his teachers. We are so proud of him.”
Fred Hollows once said, “The best part of teaching is seeing the light of understanding go on in a student’s eyes." Thomas is certainly one student whose light has been switched on.