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Lucky’s journey into optometry was not a simple career choice, but a response to a pivotal moment in his life.

In 2006, armed robbers attacked his family home and shot his father in the face. Despite prompt medical attention, his father was unable to access the simplest eyecare services and lost his sight in one eye, while further complications put his remaining vision at risk.

The experience led Lucky to enrol in optometry school, where he pushed himself to understand what could be done to help his father. “I started reading ahead because I wanted to be able to rescue my father’s other eye. And in the process, I realised that many other people shared similar experiences. I thought, ‘this is a pain that I need to turn into a purpose’,” he explains.

Driven by social impact rather than income, in 2016 Lucky established Vision Care Givers International (VCGi), a non-profit dedicated to providing access to affordable eyecare in underserved communities.

“I decided that I would try my best to start a movement, to make sure that quality eyecare is available everywhere. There was no doubt in my mind that this was what I wanted to do, and that's how the dream started,” Lucky tells us.

Under his leadership, VCGi has delivered primary eyecare to more than 21,000 people in Nigeria and Malawi, and educational materials to over 2 million.

Lucky Aziken (MSc 2023)

Echoing his father’s experience, the communities that Lucky supports are often unable to access most forms of eyecare. Due to limited resources and poor hygiene, he sees many cases of cataracts and glaucoma, as well conjunctivitis in children.

In the absence of a qualified professional, Lucky says, communities may try to attempt their own treatments, which can worsen conditions. And for those patients with refractive errors, a pair of glasses makes a world of difference.

Lucky recalls one young patient who was unable to read the blackboard at school, leading her to copy other pupils’ work and underperform in class. “A simple pair of glasses gave her back her vision,” Lucky smiles. “We could see her joy and excitement.”

Initially, Lucky’s team moved between communities every two weeks, providing examinations and treatments. However, they soon realised the need for sustainable, ongoing care and education.

Lucky now aims to establish permanent eyecare centres in areas of high need, so that locals can access free examinations and affordable treatments whenever they need them.

“Knowing that somebody in our community can wake up any day and walk into an eyecare facility gives me great joy,” he says. With long-term plans to establish 1,000 physical centres across Nigeria, Lucky ultimately aims to tackle avoidable blindness across the nation.

After that, the vision is global. “It's a fundamental human right to have access to healthcare. What about the rest of Africa? What about the next continent?”

Lucky’s ambitious mission for the future is matched by an impressive track record. In 2019 his team visited a Malawi refugee camp, home to over 40,000 people who had never previously seen an eye specialist.

“That’s more rewarding than anything I could ever have in this world. You feel so excited that a little effort has made a huge difference.”

The following year, Lucky adapted his work to COVID-19 restrictions, starting a mobile eye clinic to provide essential care in patients’ own homes, as well as advocating for inmates in overcrowded prisons.

Across four different facilities, he produced antiseptic wash and educational materials for 24,000 people.

Through collaboration with the US government, he was also able to educate teenagers on how to continue his team’s protection efforts. “Nobody is too small to effect change. You can always stand up for one person,” Lucky says.

Studying a master’s in Clinical Optometry at Cardiff University only elevated Lucky’s skills, enabling him to provide further support to communities.

“The me before I went to Cardiff and the me after Cardiff is a whole different person. My expertise couldn’t have been sharpened without the experience I had – it equipped me to be a better clinician and helped me upgrade my standard to something comparable with anywhere in the world.”

It should come as little surprise that last year, Lucky received the Health and Wellbeing Special Recognition award at Cardiff University’s 30(ish) Awards for inspiring alumni.

To aspiring changemakers looking to support their own communities, he offers some key advice.

"Find the pain you cannot tolerate and change it if you can. Regardless of how little that change is, there is always a difference you can make.”

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