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NRL Star Helps Indigenous Eyes

The National Rugby League together with the OneSight Foundation has enlisted the help of an Aboriginal football hero to promote eye health to Australia’s indigenous community.

It’s the simple eye test that Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston says is helping change the lives of indigenous children and families in remote communities across the country.

As NRL clubs throw their support behind this week’s ‘Learn. Earn. Legend!’ Close the Gap Round – which highlights the more than a decade life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – Thurston visited Vincent State School in Townsville on Wednesday, August 18, helping more than 200 students have their eye sight tested as part of the OneSight Foundation’s eye care health program.

Established in 2003, the OneSight Foundation has given more than 200,000 Australians the gift of sight, providing free vision screening, eye testing and glasses to people in need throughout Australia.

It’s the simple eye test that Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston says is helping change the lives of indigenous children and families in remote communities across the country.

It’s a cause close to Thurston’s heart as the Test halfback and Indigenous All Stars captain campaigns to improve health care services for Aboriginal Australians.

Indigenous children, especially in remote areas, often have better eye sight than their mainstream peers but, by the time they reach adulthood, Indigenous blindness rates are 6.2 times higher than in other Australians.

“Many Indigenous children don’t have access to basic eye care and other health care services that most people take for granted,” Thurston said.

“Even something as simple as helping someone get a pair of glasses can change their lives by helping them build their confidence, improve their learning in school and inspiring them to reach their potential.

“That’s why clinics like this one are so important because they teach kids about the importance of eye care and give them access to help if they need it. The more of these we can do, the better.”

OneSight Foundation Director Gina De George said: “Having Johnathan talk with the children about eye health has been invaluable.

“We have seen first-hand the positive impact these clinics have and when the kids see it is important to one of their heroes the message really hits home.

“Indigenous health is something Johnathan is obviously very passionate about and working with him and the NRL is helping us achieve our goal of having a positive long-term impact on the health and education of people in need right across the country.”

Among the optometrists conducting eye tests was Shannon Peckham, the first identified Indigenous Australian to study optometry.

Hailing from Cairns, Peckham works for OPSM in Townsville and also has a Rugby League connection – her father’s uncle, Wayne Peckham, played for the Penrith Panthers and the Canterbury Bulldogs in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A supporter of Rugby League’s One Community health programs, OPSM is running fundraising events at both Dairy Farmers Stadium in Townsville and Parramatta Stadium in Sydney with the aim of raising AUD$10,000 to deliver three additional Indigenous vision clinics in 2011.

Fans can buy merchandise at the grounds before the Telstra Premiership matches and have the opportunity to win a AUD$100 NRL Supporters Pack plus a AUD$250 OPSM voucher.

OneSight is supported by the international eye care and eyewear company Luxottica Group, which includes OPSM, Laubman & Pank, Sunglass Hut and Budget Eyewear and Bright Eyes.

OneSight utilises the specialist skills of OPSM’s optometrists and optical staff who volunteer their time to deliver this service to disadvantaged people in all parts of Australia, from the city to the outback.