Vanuatu's first ever eye doctor is a bit of a hero among locals.

But Dr Johnson Kasso is the first to tell you that back then, he was just another village boy on the island of Santo.

"I'm just fortunate to come this far,'' he says, a reflective look spreading across his face.

Dr John Szetu (L) Dr Johnson Kasso and Komal Ram, Pacific Diabetes Eye Disease Programme Manager, at the opening of the Vanuatu National Eye Centre. Photo / Dean Purcell
Dr John Szetu (L) Dr Johnson Kasso and Komal Ram, Pacific Diabetes Eye Disease Programme Manager, at the opening of the Vanuatu National Eye Centre. Photo / Dean Purcell

"My childhood was kind of a very poor childhood - my father worked in a plantation looking after cattle and mending fences, cutting copra.

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"Growing up in a plantation, to this kind of life...I think is something unimaginable for me.''

The opening of the Vanuatu National Eye Centre, supported by The Fred Hollows Foundation, in Port Vila. Photo / Dean Purcell
The opening of the Vanuatu National Eye Centre, supported by The Fred Hollows Foundation, in Port Vila. Photo / Dean Purcell

Those humble beginnings have shaped him into a hard worker and one who is very in-tuned with patients and staff alike.

People are quick to greet him or call out: "Hello, Kasso!''

Last year, he completed his studies at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji; graduating as a qualified ophthalmologist.

He returns to Vanuatu as the country's first permanent eye doctor.

It is just in time for the opening of the new Vanuatu National Eye Centre, supported by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, in Port Vila.

The centre has had a $2.5 million upgrade and will increase the island nation's eye surgery capacity from 200 to 800 per year.

That will meet the target surgical rate to eliminate avoidable blindness, as estimated by the World Health Organisation, the Foundation says.

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The centre opens on February 14 - Valentine's Day - which is fitting, as it is obvious a whole lot of love has gone into the project.

Just a few hours before the official opening ceremony, Cyclone Oma threatens to bring the whole thing indoors.

But when the sun comes out the next morning, it is all hands on deck again as there is a rush to get the marquee up for guests and decorations sorted.

Even the nurses start blowing up balloons.

Dr Johnson Kasso (C) jokes with eye nurses Basil Aitip (L) and Annie Bong (R) during the opening of Vanuatu's only dedicated eye centre, supported by the Fred Hollows Foundation. Photo / Dean Purcell
Dr Johnson Kasso (C) jokes with eye nurses Basil Aitip (L) and Annie Bong (R) during the opening of Vanuatu's only dedicated eye centre, supported by the Fred Hollows Foundation. Photo / Dean Purcell

It is a grand affair, with music played, traditional dances performed and the Vanuatu Minister of Health, Norris Jack Kalmet, officially opening the clinic.

"I must say that we are proud to have this facility in place," Dr Kasso says.

He hopes the services will reach many in rural areas and also has another hope - to train more local eye doctors.

"I can't do it alone. I need people.''

To donate to The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, visit here.