SRU’s McCollin collects ‘Eyes4Africa’


Michelle McCollin and Nigerian villager

(From left) Michelle McCollin, SRU associate professor of special education, provides vision screening to villagers in Nigeria.

Jan 7, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Many college professors take time off during the holidays to recoup from the fall semester and prepare for the next term. Slippery Rock University's Michelle McCollin used her time differently. The associate professor of special education caught a flight to Nigeria to deliver prescription eyeglasses and re-connect with the country she calls her "natal home."

In three years, McCollin has journeyed to Nigeria three times to donate 2,000 pairs of prescription eyeglasses, conduct eye clinics and provide school supplies to six schools. McCollin said she purchases 50 percent of the eyeglasses. The rest are donations she receives through social media appeals.

She calls her humanitarian vision "Eyes4Africa."

"Nigeria per capita has the highest rate of blindness and vision issues, many of which can be resolved with eyeglasses," she said. "Hence my mission... Eyes4Africa."

McCollin said she developed her humanitarian passion for Nigeria several years ago when she discovered that the country is her ancestral homeland. McCollin said genetic testing revealed her DNA is 87 percent African with more than 50 percent Nigerian.

"Nigeria has a heartstring pull on me," she said. "There is an authentic DNA level of comfort and joy when I am there, irrespective of the lack of resources and supplies. Nigeria is my natal land, my natal home."

Officially called the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the country has a population of 170 million people.

McCollin, who joined SRU in 2004, was born in Trinidad, West Indies. She emigrated to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Bronx High School of Science. She graduated from Syracuse University with a dual major in African American studies and international relations. She received two masters' degrees in education and a doctorate of philosophy in special education from Southern University.

When in Nigeria, McCollin said she wears traditional clothing with bright, colorful and intricate designs.

She has participated in what Nigerians called an initiation of a lost one ceremony. Villages bathed her in herbs, painted her face and dressed her in fine clothes for a barefoot walk through the streets to symbolize connecting to the earth.

McCollin said it is highly emotional to give people eyeglasses.

"They thank me profusely," she said. "What is most heart wrenching is when I have to tell someone they are blind, and I don't have the resources to help them. This last summer, I touched blindness in children and up through the elders. And it both broke my heart and strengthened my resolve to continue and improve my mission. I hope to take eye surgeons with me next time to do basic cataract surgeries."

As she helps people, McCollin said she has learned about the many Nigerian cultures and people groups, including the Igbo, Hausa, Fulani and Yoruba.

"I am of the Yoruba people," she said. "They are a proud and culturally rich people with belief systems that date back more than 10,000 years."

Part of her mission, McCollin said, is setting an example for SRU students.

"It's about being an advocate for change in whatever environment you find yourself in," she said. "Eyes4Africa is my advocacy in an international level for people with vision disabilities or limitations. I teach my students the importance of paying it forward with whatever resources we have access to. It's a powerful lesson in humanity."

McCollin, who sees the world through a clear lens, is a powerful lesson, too.

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