COURTESY SOPHIA AHMED ’21
Sophia Ahmed ’21 had been thinking about ways to help during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she never expected her a-ha moment to come while unpacking dorm-room boxes in her parents’ Michigan basement. There, in mid-March, she uncovered a pair of average, everyday lab goggles. For the Rabi Scholar, they had been a routine piece of gear. Could they now be put to a less routine use?
“We started hearing reports about hospital shortages and how they didn’t have enough PPE to protect the healthcare workers,” Ahmed says. “That seemed fundamentally wrong to me. If you can’t protect the people who are supposed to be protecting us, how do you expect to get through this crisis?”
She and her sister Aishah, a similarly science-minded student home from Harvard, immediately began contacting hospitals in the Detroit area to ask if goggles could be of use. The answer was a resounding yes — and EyeAid Detroit was born. Its aim: to collect gently used (or new!) protective eyewear from college students, sanitize them and send them to Detroit hospitals and healthcare facilities. Interested donors sign up via the EyeAid website, then receive instructions about shipping and safety protocols.
Ahmed knew immediately it would be a numbers game. “Not many people have 100 goggles,” she says, “but a lot of STEM students have a pair or two. And even other students — many people take Intro to Chem or a course like that. We knew we were going to depend on small, individual donations.”
The pair took to social media and contacted friends from high school and college. “My Rabi community has been super supportive in helping to get the word out,” notes Ahmed, who is a sustainable development major. As the weeks passed, they began receiving donations from further afield. “It’s been amazing to see our second- and third-degree networks grow. Every day we get emails from students at universities where, personally, I don’t know anyone — this morning it was Alabama — but they hear about us and email.”
Ahmed makes a point of circling back to donors to let them know where their eyewear lands. To date, EyeAid Detroit has redistributed roughly 300 pairs of goggles, with hundreds more in the cleaning and prep phase.
“It’s wonderful to see all corners of the U.S. come together and college students really feeling like they can make a difference in this,” Ahmed says. She recalls a recent donation from the Michigan State University physiology department: “We opened our front door to this huge box. We weren’t expecting it! And then we opened it — there were more than 60 goggles. It brought a lot of light and warmth to my day.”
It’s been especially meaningful to Ahmed to contribute in Detroit, one of the hardest-hit metro areas in the country and only about an hour from her home in Port Huron.
“This crisis has really allowed us to reflect on the communities that we’re part of and the impact that they’ve had on us, and then the impact that we want to be able to have on those communities in return.”
Published quarterly by the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends of Columbia College.