Life on board the Flying Eye Hospital: 10 questions with Celia Yeung

May 2019

Communications manager, Celia, has just completed her last Flying Eye Hospital project in Kingston, Jamaica. We took a moment to sit down with one of the most inspiring members of the Orbis family and reflect on her incredible work over the past seven and a half years.

SO, WHAT'S A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF CELIA YEUNG?

Well, my typical day starts very early. I leave the hotel at around 7:30 am with the team, then head to the plane where ophthalmic training and surgeries are performed all day. As the communications manager, I was in charge of all the PR, media, public awareness and advocacy campaigns of our Flying Eye Hospital wherever we went, and I loved it because the plane always gave me a great platform to promote Orbis’s work and raise awareness of the prevention of blindness around the world.

I was honoured to have introduced the amazing Flying Eye Hospital to many heads-of-state, dignitaries, celebrities, international and local partners and media, including Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Health, foreign ambassadors, Cindy Crawford, FedEx, Google, CNN, BBC and Getty Images to name but a few.

Celia in the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital Plane Engine

Celia Young has been driving communications for the Flying Eye Hospital for nearly 8 years

IS WORKING ON BOARD THE FLYING EYE HOSPITAL AS FUN AS IT LOOKS?

It certainly is! But it’s also a lot of hard work and long hours. It’s a really unique working environment, we can have up to 25 staff and 12 volunteers on board from over 20 different nations, so it’s like working in a mini UN!

And we’re all a long way from home, sometimes for up to two or three months in a row, so the team has become my second family. We’re all very close since we travel, work, eat, joke, fight and make up together. But we all support each other as a family. There’s a lot of work to keep the Flying Eye Hospital flying and our projects running smoothly, so we all take turns – we even have a rota for cleaning the toilets every day and being the flight attendants when we fly.

Celia's amazing work in action

WAS TRAVELING ONE OF THE REASONS YOU WANTED TO WORK FOR ORBIS?

Absolutely! I get to visit and work in so many countries, places you wouldn’t usually go as a tourist like Libya, Syria, Nigeria and Uganda. But most importantly, as a postgraduate student of global and public health, I get this real opportunity to work in the field with the Ministry of Health, local eye hospitals, colleagues, partners and media all over the world to promote eye health, while raising awareness and educating people on the prevention of blindness. Nothing is more fulfilling than being able to use my knowledge and skills to promote Orbis’s work and help people see again. I told everyone that I had found my dream job!

A big part of Celia's role, meeting with health partners around the world

A meeting with the Minister of Health in Cameroon

AS A SEASONED TRAVELER, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE TO BEAT JET LAG?

When I first joined Orbis, I used to get serious jet lag but now I’m kind of used to it. I like a midnight flight so I can try to sleep on the plane and arrive in the morning refreshed. Also, I learned to pack light (very important!), and I’m really conscious about reducing plastic waste and staying healthy when I travel. So I love reusable and foldable gadgets, like cups, bags, backpacks, straws, lunch boxes, etc. If it’s foldable, I’m all for it!

Recently, I started to do HIIT exercises in my hotel room as I’m not a fan of the gym, and sometimes make my own lunch or simple dinner using vegetables and food bought from local markets or supermarkets. I’m a big fan of the supermarket!


ON YOUR TRAVELS, WHAT'S ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE PLACES TO VISIT?

I have a special memory, but it’s a sad one. Syria was one of my favourite countries to visit. It was one of the most unique places I’ve ever been to with Orbis, and the people there were so kind and friendly. When you watch the news, the western media portrays Syria as the “axis of evil”. But when we were there, I felt totally different and realised the media was nothing but propaganda. In fact, one of my most memorable dinners with Orbis was the one jointly hosted by the Grand Mufti and the Grand Bishop of Syria to welcome the Orbis team in 2007. That’s unheard of in any other country, even nowadays.

Aleppo is one of the most ancient cities in the world. It had a beautiful citadel, a magnificent grand mosque and a buzzing grand bazaar where I loved to hang out; The city was beautiful and enchanting. Now I see what’s changed and it’s heartbreaking. I wish we could go back in time and people could see the beauty of the city and the Syrians as they were before.

Now, we can’t physically go back to Syria but, through Cybersight, one of our volunteer doctors, Dr. Dan Neely, had done the first live consultation with doctors in Syria in July last year. Although we can’t be there, we can use technology to keep training doctors. I’m very proud that we’re able to reach places and help people where no one else can go.

Aleppo in Syria made a huge impression on her

A trip to Syria made a lasting impression on Celia

IS IT DIFFICULT WORKING IN SO MANY DIFFERENT, SOMETIMES CHALLENGING COUNTRIES?

It’s challenging but also rewarding. But by working with a multi-national team on board the Flying Eye Hospital on a daily basis, I learned how to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures personally and professionally, which was very helpful when we worked in different countries. If you respect and treat people the same way regardless of their culture or religion, you will gain their trust and cooperation easily. And of course a sense of humor goes a long way to break the ice, that’s why I like making jokes all the time. I believe how someone talks, eats and dresses are their own choices. Our differences are what make us interesting, not difficult.


DOES BEING A WOMAN IMPACT YOUR WORK IN CERTAIN COUNTRIES?

It’s interesting that you ask because I honestly don’t think I encountered many challenges working in certain countries as a woman. I have to be professional and I treat everyone with respect. And when they see and feel that, they will treat you back the same, especially when you are working towards the same goals.


WHAT'S CHANGED OVER YOUR LAST TWO TENURES WITH ORBIS?

During my two tenures with Orbis, I’ve seen big changes and improvement in terms of technology on board the Flying Eye Hospital. I remember having to go to internet cafes and use dial-up to send emails after work back in 2005, and now the MD-10 has high-speed internet that makes our lives so much easier. In the old days, doctors would have to practice their surgical skills on pigs or cows’ eyes in the wet lab! But now, we use 3D-technology, plastic eyes and computerized simulators to help them learn. Just this morning, we were doing a live surgery on the plane in Jamaica and it was streamed to more than 30 different countries via Cybersight in real time – this is a big deal.


BEING SO BUSY, HOW DO YOU FIND TIME FOR YOUR OTHER INTERESTS?

Well, two of my hobbies are related to travel. I only started getting into photography because of Orbis. I bought my first digital camera when I first joined in 2005, because I wanted to document my travels. I’ve never had any formal training in photography but little did I know I have a talent for it. One of my vacation photos in Brazil was chosen by National Geographic as stock photo! Then, three years ago, I discovered urban-sketching and I started learning from some online courses and YouTube. Now I carry my pens and DIY watercolour set everywhere I go and trying to capture the essence of places and people wherever I can. It’s fun!

Celia's talented sketching and photography work

AND FINALLY, WHAT'S NEXT FOR CELIA YEUNG?

My next adventure is very exciting yet challenging. I’m going to start an animal foundation and a technology startup with my friends as the Chief Marketing Officer. We are all animal lovers and we came up with this unprecedented and crazy idea to use the latest technology to improve the well-being of animals around the world.

Everything is in the early stages right now, so all I can say is my two kitties are very happy with my decision! But I can’t wait to tell you more once we launch our companies. Stay tuned…

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Celia for her years of hard work, and from everyone at Orbis we wish her the best of luck with her next exciting adventure. Celia, you’re a special member of the Orbis family, and there will always be a space for you on the plane!

Discover more about the plane