Great Shape! Inc.’s iCARE Project is an international humanitarian program providing free eye care (exams, glasses, surgery, health screening) in collaboration with our essential partners: Sandals Foundation, VOSH International, SEE International, Alcon, Jamaican MOH, Lions Club, and the people of Jamaica.
Each week, our team of eye care volunteers cares for more than 1,500 patients. Each patient receives a full exam, and gets fitted for prescription glasses, readers, and/or sunglasses, as needed. The patient may also receive a referral for advanced eye care, such as treatment for glaucoma or cataracts. In some cases, our own ophthalmologists may provide these surgeries at nearby hospitals.
Our nursing volunteers provide blood sugar and blood pressure screening with consultations.
Ophthalmologists, optometrists, and nurses are required to register with the government of Jamaica to work in-country as a volunteer. Great Shape! Inc. guides volunteers through every step of registration.
We depend on donations of eyewear from Lion’s Club and others to fit the thousands of patients. We are always seeking new sources for procuring donated glasses, and always looking for volunteers to help us neutralize glasses and assemble our libraries.
Who Can Volunteer?
You! Optometrists, ophthalmologists, opticians, nurses, front desk staff, friends, and family are all welcome. Everyone that comes is a working volunteer. Volunteers who are not medical professionals take on support roles, such as: registration, acuities, patient flow, and all get on-the-job training. Children under the age of 18 need special permission from the Great Shape! staff.
It's all about ``One Love``
iCARE is a life-changing program that harnesses the compassion and expertise of eye care professionals to provide the gift of sight to thousands who can’t afford it. In the areas we serve, there are no publicly available optometrists, and only two ophthalmologists for over half a million people. The numbers are staggering. Most of our patients come from low-income, rural communities and almost none of them have ever been to an eye doctor.
In Jamaica, they have a saying: “One Love” – which simply means we are all brothers and sisters in the highest spiritual sense. That is why we care – that is why we come. Volunteers make new friends, learn about new cultures, learn about themselves and get an opportunity to use their skills for absolute fulfillment.
- Volunteers pay their own airfare and project fee*.
- Hotel, food, drinks, airport transfers on the island and resort amenities are all provided for free by the Sandals Foundation.
- You can be refunded some or all of your project fee and airfare through our Sponsor a Smile fundraising campaign.
- Your project fee and travel expenses are tax deductible. All donations made to Great Shape! in the Sponsor a Smile campaign are tax deductible for the donor.
- Volunteers are required to bring supplies (list provided); these can be gathered through donors.
- Volunteers pay to ship their supplies to Miami. Great Shape! Inc. pays to ship the supplies from Miami to Jamaica.
* All project fees go directly to offset the expenses of the project to operate and administer a well-organized, safe and productive international humanitarian experience.
How Long Can I Volunteer?
Volunteers work for one or two weeks depending on availability. You must arrive and depart on specific dates (see list of dates). If you wish to arrive or depart on other dates you must get permission from Great Shape! staff and you will be responsible for any additional expenses, including hotels. If you wish to volunteer for more than two weeks please contact Great Shape! staff.
Leadership and Ministry
Great Shape! Inc. facilitates the iCARE project in partnership with the Ministry of Health, VOSH Northwest and other optometric groups. There are both project coordinators and clinical leaders for each session that keep everything well organized, safe, and running smoothly. Program Director, Steven Stern is based in the Northwest of the U.S. and is a long-time Great Shape!’er.
Work Conditions & Schedule
Our clinic sites are set up in local Jamaican buildings such as churches, community centers, or schools. We do our best to make things comfortable with fans and shade, but at 15 degrees north of the equator, it will be hot. Our volunteers work Monday through Friday. The day usually starts around 7:20am with a breakfast meeting, and at 8am we head out into the field to change the world. Clinic finishes around 3:30pm to 4pm, and we try to have volunteers back at the hotel in time to jump in the aqua blue Caribbean Sea, or just relax a bit before dinner. First Sundays are working days reserved for orientation and set up. The work is fun and extremely rewarding, but is busy all day long.
With exception of the first Saturday evening and Sunday, evenings and weekends are your free time to bask in the sun, sit by the bar, or go on an adventure such as a glass bottom boat tour, zip line canopy tour, or horseback riding.
Sandals Resorts International and its charitable arm, the Sandals Foundation, provide free all-inclusive luxury accommodations to our volunteers. As a guest at the resort, volunteers are welcome to enjoy all of the free amenities that are provided to paying guests. These include several all-you-can-eat restaurants, full bars, swimming pools, water sports including scuba diving, entertainment, and much more.
Three To A Room
The Sandals Foundation donates millions in service to Great Shape! Inc. and you’ll share three to a room. We encourage you to form groups of three when applying so you can room with people you know. If not, we place volunteers with the most compatible roommates possible and folks make new friends from the USA, Canada, and beyond. Couples are welcome to either bring a third person with them to be their roommate or pay a third project fee to secure a private room.
Travel Arrangements and Documents
Once approved, volunteers make their own travel arrangements to fly into and out of Montego Bay, Jamaica. Free transportation to and from the airport and host resort is provided, on the confirmed hotel project dates.
All Americans are required to carry a current passport to re-enter the USA. U.S. and Canadian citizens are not required to use a VISA to enter Jamaica. If you are not a US or Canadian citizen, please contact us to make sure you have the correct documentation for entry and return. You should always carry a photocopy of your travel documents separate from the originals in case the originals are lost or stolen. This will expedite permission to re-enter your country.
We highly recommend you consult your doctor before traveling to Jamaica or any foreign country for current health considerations. You may also wish to visit the US Embassy website or CDC website for latest health updates for Jamaica. In 2014, the Chikungunya Virus spread across the Caribbean, including Jamaica. Chikungunya is a virus that causes joint pain, fever, headache and sometimes rash. It appears the outbreak has run its course and is no longer considered a high risk in Jamaica, but all volunteers will be advised to follow normal precautions of wearing mosquito repellent and long clothes where mosquitos are present.
There are doctors and hospitals in Jamaica, but emergency services can be difficult to obtain in a timely fashion. As is typical in a developing nation, the quality or availability of health care services may be well below what you are use to.
Emergency evacuation to the USA for emergency medical attention may be required, depending on the severity and urgency of the situation. We strongly advise each volunteer secure their own emergency medical travel insurance and contact your health insurance company about what to do and what is covered in the event of a medical emergency. We also recommend you discuss an emergency plan with your doctor and keep phone numbers of primary care providers with you at all times.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, Jamaica has an HIV rate of 1.7% of the population as of 2012. This is far below many countries in Africa and other places (US is listed at 1%). We place a high emphasis on safety with our volunteers to take the greatest of care when working out in the field. Testing (patients and volunteers) for HIV is possible in Jamaica, but sometimes it is not available in a timely fashion and sometimes the patient refuses to test. In the unlikely event you are exposed to HIV, you will have to decide if you want to take HIV medications (prophylaxis). WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you review this possibility with your doctor prior to participation and have a post exposure plan in place for yourself.
Water and Food
Water in most communities in Jamaica is treated and safe to drink from the tap. Bottled water is also readily available. The food is plentiful, delicious, fresh, varied and safe to eat. Eat and drink well to stay nourished and hydrated!