TheFace: Alaa Bahri, Saudi Arabia’s first licensed ocularist

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Time: June 21, 2019

Alaa Bahri and her twins Cayan and Maleeka. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)

When I was young I did not know exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew I wanted to do something special.

Eventually, I decided I wanted to be an ocularist, which is someone who makes and fits artificial eyes. This was a big challenge. There are no schools that teach this skill; usually it is passed down from one generation to the next, so you have to be a member of a family that is already in the business. I was not.

The other challenge I faced was convincing my family to allow me study this unusual subject, as they were concerned about the risks of pursuing a career in something so unfamiliar and uncommon.

I persisted, however, and contacted the Laisca family of ocularists in Barcelona, Spain, who agreed to teach me their techniques for making artificial eyes. My education did not end there, as I was keen to learn more, and as I searched for information I found the American Society of Ocularists. I registered with it and found a certified ocularist with whom I could train, while also attending courses and classes, to become an apprentice or an associate. I went to Houston, Texas, and trained with Soper Brothers, which is well-known name in the field. However, I struggled to obtain a visa after 9/11 and so I could not work full time as an apprentice or study full time at college.

Nevertheless, I was more interested and determined than ever to learn about making artificial eyes, and so I went to Paris to learn new methods from the company Dencott. Then I returned to Saudi Arabia to open my own practice. This was another difficulty, as it was not easy to get a license for a clinic because it was a new field in the Kingdom.

After four years I managed to open my clinic and became the first licensed ocularist in Saudi Arabia. My parents, especially my dad, helped me a lot with the business and my mom was always there for me when I had to go to a meeting or appointment and needed her to look after my twins, Cayan and Maleeka. My family supported me all the way and encouraged me to succeed in something that I love to do. They understood how happy this made me and how it would change the lives of a lot of people.

Cayan and Maleeka are my support system; it is not easy to work and raise kids but I will always encourage them to choose a career that they love and to be creative. Loving what you do is a blessing. I try to explain to my kids sometimes how important my job is and what it means to my patients. Sometimes it means that I might be busy or exhausted and not always around for them, but I am doing something I know is special — I am putting smiles on faces and changing lives.

I am now a member of the American Society of Ocularists and working to become the first board-certified ocularist in the Middle East but still have a few years to go before I earn that.

This article was first published in Arab News

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