An Adelaide native and mother of two, Mena Muecke, gave up her career as an established interior architect a decade ago to refocus her creative energy to fight blindness in developing countries.
Mena joined forces with her husband, Ophthalmologist Dr James Muecke who founded Sight For All (SFA) in 2009. The dynamic duo have been through ups and downs together, from surviving a bomb attack in Jerusalem to juggling raising two sons all while trying to establish a new charity.
As the Event Director at SFA, Mena brings her flair for design to conceptualising and staging unique fundraising events to raise awareness and donations for the charity. Most recently Mena received the Medal of the Order (OAM) for her charitable initiatives as part of the Australia Day Honours.
Founded by Adelaide ophthalmologist Dr James Muecke, Sight For All delivers eye health care projects free of charge to partner countries and communities, with the ultimate aim of reducing vision impairment and blindness.
Question: What is Sight For All?
Mena Muecke: Sight For All is a not-for-profit eye healthcare charitable organisation with a mission to help fight blindness in low income countries and Australian mainstream and Aboriginal communities. We aim to achieve this through collaborative research, sustainable education, infrastructure development and raising awareness of eye disease. Our mission is to "create a world where everyone can see"
Question: What inspired you to stop your work as an interior architect and start Sight For All?
Mena Muecke: I'd spent a life-changing year living in East Jerusalem when my husband James was working at St John Ophthalmic Hospital. This was my first taste of how quality medical help can have an impact in under-privileged regions. It sparked a desire in me to become involved, however with no medical training, I wasn't sure how this might unfold. My opportunity came 14 years later with the launch of Sight For All. I was ready for a sea change from my design career, when an opportunity to assist with the marketing and fundraising for Sight For All presented itself.
Question: What has been the most difficult part about establishing Sight For All?
Mena Muecke: Although I did not establish Sight For All, I was involved form the earliest of days. As a small volunteer team working from different locations, many of the team still juggling a full-time paid job, we needed to be efficient in our communications, learn quickly to understand how the charity space worked, and explore how Sight For All could slot in and own its own space in fighting blindness. We had a goal from the start to be unique, be transparent and at all times be a cause worthy of support.
Question: What's a typical day like, for you?
Mena Muecke: As a volunteer working from home, I plan my days to suit my weekly commitments. After many years of mixing my personal life with my Sight For All life on a daily basis, I now have designated days for each. This has given me the head space to give the team at Sight For All my undivided attention on what have now become known as my 'Sight For All days', where I attend meetings, respond to emails, work on fundraising and events and tweak concepts, documents and initiatives. This has given me greater freedom to plan my weeks clearly so I can find time for my family and friends, my health and wellbeing, family business, home duties, and to pursue other interests which have long been neglected.
Question: How do you balance family and work life?
Mena Muecke: I find maintaining balance is a constant work in progress as each day brings new beginnings, opportunities and challenges. I do however set my weekly calendar each Sunday, so every Monday morning I have a set idea of what the week looks like for me. I like clarity and to be able to put 150% into my personal life and work life, and so I'm very careful not to stray from my plans, however one must always be flexible to make changes when the need arises. Life is never black and white. By 5pm, I am strictly on family time, preparing a home cooked meal and being amongst my family for the evening.
Question: What's the best part about working on a charity with your husband?
Mena Muecke: I love having a common interest with my husband and best friend, James. Our energy together is great and we almost always spur off each other in a positive way. James and I are both 'half glass full' types, so we often need to take our grand ideas down a notch. Sight For All provides the perfect springboard for some of our best moments together, it's extremely fulfilling, inspiring and always eventful! We are both driven by a desire to make Sight For All the best it can be.
Question: What advice do you have for working mothers in regard to balance?
Mena Muecke: It's really important to plan your week. I am strict with time and rarely deviate - if I don't plan, my week starts in chaos and ends in chaos. Write lists to keep you on track and always check them so you have the pleasure of crossing off those you have done. Set one day a week for all your must-do tasks and activities so that the remaining days in your diary are free to set aside for your work, clear-headed and engaged. Having said this, family comes first, so if you have a sick child drop everything and be by their side - you don't get time back and they need you.
Question: How can Australian's support Sight For All?
Mena Muecke: Support can come in many forms and in each way helpful to a boutique organisation like Sight For All. Consider becoming an ongoing donor all year round, every dollar can make a difference - join our donor circle Vision 1000 or sponsor an eye doctor in sub specialty training. If you are sporty, run a marathon, ride a bike or hike a mountain on behalf of Sight For All, or simply host a fundraising day at work, school or in your club. All support, big or small, ongoing or one-off, helps to further our work and build awareness of vision loss. The nice thing is, collectively we all become part of this fight against blindness, in essence we all become sight warriors.
Question: What's next for Sight For All?
Mena Muecke: Sight For All will be celebrating 10 years this May, so we are busy planning a series of great events to commemorate this. We will also be launching an exciting initiative for our supporters to get behind and make a real difference in fighting blindness. If this sounds like something you wish to hear more about, please subscribe, follow and friend. Open your eyes and let us come your way!
Interview by Brooke Hunter