“The most rewarding thing is the smile on their face”

Ruth Perrott, MBE, speaks with OT  about distributing more than 20,000 pairs of donated spectacles overseas

Ruth Perrott
York-based optometrist, Ruth Perrott, became a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2021 New Years Honours.

She speaks with OT below about what the honour means to her, her volunteer work, and practising her curtsey ahead of meeting the Queen.

I got an email on 6 December saying I had been put forward for an MBE and asking whether I would accept it. I thought ‘Oh go on then - alright.’ It came as a complete surprise. I sent all the forms back and then was sworn to secrecy. The investiture will take place post-COVID and probably later in the year. I’m looking forward to meeting the Queen – I have been practising my curtseys.

The charity work started in 1987 when my husband Colin and I took over the editing of the Vision Aid Overseas newsletter as a joint project. This was before the days of desktop publishing. We had a piece of photographic paper that was about 18 feet long and we collated it by hand. This outgrew us and we handed it over in the mid-1990s.

I went to Cameroon in 1991 with a charity called Health Project Abroad, an offshoot of Operation Raleigh. On return I spoke to York Ainsty Rotary and one of the guys put their hand up and said ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ Thirty years later they are still helping through a massive spectacle sorting project that meets monthly at my home. Since COVID, this has halted the fellowship, but the sorting continues individually. Lockdown has given me the opportunity to work through the backlog of spectacles in the garage.

I have a very good in-flow of spectacles with regular deliveries from Rotary Clubs, Lions clubs and other organisations. We often come home to a box of glasses on the doorstep and I don’t know who they are from. The biggest delivery we’ve had came from Humberside on a palleted lorry.

The 16 trips I have embarked on overseas have included teaching at a hospital in Sierra Leone and delivering spectacles in Burkina Faso with Vision Aid Overseas. When Vision Aid Overseas stopped doing the direct service clinics, I decided to carry on supplying spectacles on my own. Since then, I have been to Malawi four times, Senegal four times and Tanzania once.

Sight is our window to the outside world. To be able to give that to so many people is such a privilege


Each time we become more efficient and see more people. It really is most satisfying altering a life in an instant just by providing the glasses. The most rewarding thing is the smile on their face. It is a wonderful opportunity to use the skills gained in the UK to help the world to see.

There was one chap who had a fragment of a lens of about -8.00. He would unwrap it from his hanky and hold this precious fragment up to his eye in order to see. New spectacles meant the world to him. Patients would walk for many hours and may even queue the night before in order to be seen. Sight is our window to the outside world. To be able to give that to so many people is such a privilege.

I obviously cannot go in 2021 and so Kenya has been put on hold. However, I have located several clinics with appropriate facilities and have shipped thousands of cleaned, labelled and packed spectacles to Fiji, Sri Lanka, and the Yemen. I am pleased to have found an outlet for this project – the work continues.