Untapped potential. 

This is what Fred Hollows saw on his last visit to Vietnam 25 years ago. 

This year, The Fred Hollows Foundation celebrates its 25th Anniversary. And while The Foundation now works in more than 25 countries, in some ways our international journey was born in Vietnam – with a special photo, a boy named Giap and a promise Fred was determined to keep.

In 1992, only a few months before he passed away, Fred checked himself out of a cancer ward and hopped on a plane. He had pledged to help the needlessly blind in Vietnam, and on what would be his last overseas trip, he started to train a workforce of keen Vietnamese eye surgeons who lacked the skills to perform modern cataract surgery.

All you blokes need is a bit of training and some equipment and you'll be able to do it...

- Fred Hollows, speaking to a group of eye surgeons

The lack of cataract surgery skills meant there were one million Vietnamese people living with cataract, but only 0.1% of these people were able to receive adequate treatment.

Eye care in Vietnam over 25 years

Fred was determined to help the Vietnamese help themselves. Ultimately, he wanted to make eye health care accessible to anyone who needed it.

One of those people was Giap. When Fred saw him 25 years ago he was a scared little boy who didn’t know if he’d ever see properly again. A shard of glass had been lodged in his right eye for two years and his left eye was severely damaged.

Giap’s father took his son to Hanoi's Institute for Ophthalmology, hopeful that someone would be able to help. After 25 days in hospital, doctors told him there was nothing they could do for Giap’s eyes.

On the day they were due to leave, Fred Hollows arrived.

The story of Fred & Giap

Fred spent the morning teaching surgery and then took a walk around the hospital courtyard. A group of patients clamoured for his attention but it was Giap that was pushed forward by his father.  

Fred examined Giap’s eye and recognised the opportunity to save his sight. Right away, he organised surgery. This was a defining moment for Giap - and for The Foundation.

After Giap’s sight was restored, he progressed from a child who had a very uncertain future, to a high school maths teacher with his own family. In many ways, he personifies the development of The Foundation in Vietnam.

Vietnam Gabi Hollows Giap

Giap's amazing journey

Gabi Hollows has kept in close touch with Giap, and last year she returned to Vietnam, nearly 25 years after Fred saved his sight.

“It’s lovely to see him. He’s a very happy man and he’s doing good things giving other kids an education. It’s pretty amazing,” Gabi says.

It's lovely to see him every time...he's doing good things...
- Gabi Hollows, on visiting Giap in Vietnam

Giap says he feels honoured to be part of the Fred Hollows brand. “If I couldn’t see, if I couldn’t read, I would not have been able to become a teacher,” he says.

Days before Gabi’s visit, Giap welcomed his second child, Phuc, into the world. He still feels thankful for his eyesight and describes seeing his new daughter like “winning the lottery”.

Gabi Giap Wife Child

“When a patient has their eye restored they can change their destiny and do whatever they want,” says Giap. “I have a different life.”

....and the amazing progression of Vietnam

Since The Foundation started the eye care program in Vietnam, the rate of cataract surgeries has more than doubled and it keeps increasing. 

We have worked in 22 provinces and from 1992-2015 our projects trained 514 surgeons and 608 clinical staff. Today, we’re only needed in eight of those provinces, as the rest are self-sufficient.

It’s an incredible achievement and one that reflects the aim of The Foundation: sustainable solutions in all of the countries where we work.

As Fred once said to a group of eye surgeons: “all you blokes need is a bit of training and some equipment and you’ll be able to do it.”

We’ve only achieved so much because of our generous supporters. Thanks to you, we can look forward to even more success stories in Vietnam and beyond for the next 25 years.