The John Fawcett Foundation Mobile Surgery Unit

Posted by PSR_AXP 
PACITAN, Indonesia, 2011 – These days it’s easy to be overcome by cynicism and think that we live in a largely apathetic world. More and more it seems like people of principle are disappearing. In 1966 Muhammad Ali was arguably the most famous athlete in the world. But he was willing to sacrifice his fame because of what he believed in. “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” he said after refusing to fight in the war in Vietnam. He was subsequently fined $10,000 and sentenced to 5 years in jail and while he never served time, Ali was stripped of his title and banned from fighting in America for almost four years. While he was certainly a majestic athlete, Ali was not solely defined by what he did with boxing gloves on. He was a battler both inside and outside the ring: a man who stood on principle.
Today? Tiger Woods, whose global fame rivals Ali’s, rarely gives a private interview, let alone voices a meaningful opinion. Despite being intelligent and articulate, Tiger is first and foremost a corporate pitchman and heaven forbid he might damage the ‘brand’ or lose an endorsement by taking a stand on an issue. And yet he was willing to jeopardize both his family and his good name by openly consorting with porn stars and prostitutes. Priorities are often skewed in our modern world where Dancing with the Stars, Premier League Football, and American Idol are broadcast to global audiences numbering in the billions. And yet most that are watching haven’t the slightest clue that millions are beginning to starve to death in the Horn of Africa.
Of course, we have our own problems and time consuming obligations like work and family. But still there is so much idle time wasted as well as the reality that many of the world’s ‘inconvenient truths’ are simply so overwhelming that we feel powerless to effect change. So instead we ignore them and hope that they will go away, or at the very least that someone else will solve them. Once again apathy rules, ignorance and inaction are the norm. Yes indeed, it is all too easy to be cynical of our modern and misguided world.
But just when you think there is little hope someone comes along to change your mind and open your eyes. That someone is John Fawcett.
After struggling with a serious medical condition complicated by a botched surgery that left him clinically dead for a few minutes, John relocated to Bali in 1984 to heal his broken body. Grateful to simply be alive, he now had a revitalized and reenergized outlook on life. He began to search for ways that he could make a difference in a world that is often unfair and he did not have to look far to do it. One of the not so well kept secrets of the luxurious paradise that Bali has become is the impoverished existence of the island’s indigenous residents. On the other side of the gates of Bali’s five-star hotels and not far from the fashionable boutiques and chic restaurants lies a level of poverty and suffering that is all too common across much of Asia.
It was here that John set out to help. Using his own funds as well as some donations from friends and family, he sponsored the first of over 32,000 vision-restoring cataract operations in Bali and across the Indonesian archipelago.
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting John at his home, which doubles as the centre of operations for the John Fawcett Foundation. In spite of celebrating his 79th birthday recently, this gentle giant of a man maintains a hectic schedule that would challenge someone half his age.
I was curious why he had originally decided to focus his energies on funding cataract surgery some thirty years ago. “Well,” he replied, “one can be overwhelmed by the level of needs of the people here. You can’t fix everything, so I thought, what better way to help than by restoring a person’s sight.”
We leafed through a number of ‘before and after’ photos of patients and I could not help sensing a bit of pride. “It must be very satisfying to see these results,” I asked.

“Oh yes,” John said in a soft-spoken Australian accent. “It is a very good feeling indeed.” There was clearly a quiet determination despite his selfless manner.
A few months after that meeting, I had been invited to observe the foundation in action and found myself in the back of a giant Hercules military aircraft along with 25 members of the John Fawcett Foundation medical team. The size of their operation helped me to better understand the scope of the group’s philanthropy as the aircraft swallowed whole a fully equipped mobile surgical van that would accompany us to the small town of Pacitan in Java.
From humble beginnings, the John Fawcett Foundation is now recognized the world over and receives cooperation from the highest levels of the Indonesian and Australian governments.
The Indonesian government has been extremely helpful in providing the authority for the Foundation to operate in villages and more recently the Air Force has provided invaluable support by flying the medical team and its vehicles to some of the country’s more remote locales.
Over a five-day period in Pacitan, the team screens 2,400 people who are suffering from various eye ailments. More than 1,700 are fitted with free eyeglasses while those with eye infections and other problems are treated and given free medicine. Four surgeons are also on hand to remove blinding cataracts from the eyes of eighty-seven people. All in all, it’s an incredible transformation as many of these villagers are having the gift of sight restored thanks to the determination, and yes the vision, of John and his team.
It’s the type of work that would enrich a person’s soul and for those of us who have so much and yet give so little, a couple of days with John and his crew could change all that.
Naturally, I have things to do and a life to get back to so I leave the team early, hopping on a bus to Yogyakarta and taking a commercial flight back to Bali. But a part of me is still with the foundation and their work. I have seen first hand how one would get a very good feeling out of this work and yet it’s much more than that for many of these people. It’s about doing the right thing. 
The author, Paul Luciw, is the Founder and Managing Director of AsiaXPAT.  

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