A personal reflection from our Regional Manager for Europe, Donna Power, after her recent site visit to Tanzania.
As I journeyed into the coastal region of Bagamoyo, East Tanzania, ‘Change’ by Michael Jackson came on in the vehicle. I smiled listening to the lyrics: ‘Going to make a difference’, thinking how appropriate the words were. I didn’t realise just how significant they would be for the days that followed.
This was my first visit to an Optometry Giving Sight funded project. It is being supported by CooperVision as part of their ‘One Bright Vision’ campaign across Europe, and is implemented by the Brien Holden Vision Institute (the Institute) in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and Ministry of Education. The goal is to help screen 100,000 children in the Bagamoyo and Kihaba districts of Tanzania through donations from sales of Biofinity contact lenses. I was joined by Heath Clash, European Marketing Communications Manager for CooperVison and Eden Mashayo, Country Manager for the Institute who guided us through the programme on the ground.
With just one optometrist who works in the Bagamoyo vision centre, it is impossible to reach out and screen every person. Therefore, training local teachers is crucial, because it enables them to screen and refer children who need further treatment to the vision centre. So far, 309 teachers have been trained from 127 schools, and thousands of children have already benefited from screening.
I was really impressed with the integration across the Ministry of Health and Education; everyone we met was sincerely grateful and enthusiastic about the work that was being carried out. Dr. Ursuline Nyandindi, Manager of the National School Health Programme, expressed how the programme is creating an “agent for change” in the community, with an increased recognition of the important of vision care.
At the first primary school, Mbaruku, we were greeted by a dance and children singing to us in Swahili about the importance of “looking after their eyes – as they are the lights of our lives”, something I felt resonated very well with the One Bright Vision Campaign!
One boy from Mbaruku school, 13-year-old Hassini Muhamed was going to be put into a lower class as he was severely struggling, when
all he needed was vision correction for myopia. He talked about how he had gone from “being really sad to being really happy.” It was amazing to see both his and his mum’s beaming smiles as they talked about how the spectacles have improved not only his grades, but his life in general.
At the Mlandizi primary school, 45 children - 8 percent of pupils - needed to be referred after screening. One of the schoolgirls, 13-year-old Chausiku Omary, said she had suffered from vision problems for many years and had not been able to see the chalkboard clearly. She was relieved to know why she was different to her friends and struggling with work. At one point, Chausiku came over and put her arm around me and said “thank you miss”. The level of gratitude from her and all of the children simply blew me away. Her teacher, Eva Joseph Cheo, had also suffered from presbyopia and had received spectacles, enabling her to carry out her role as a teacher and in her community.
“I am a church leader and I can read and sing once again!” she said.
We also visited the vision centre in Bagamoyo and were privileged to speak to the district’s only optometrist, Bernadetha Lyimo. She talked about how effective the programme was and how she sees children with not only refractive error, but also conditions such as chronic conjunctivitis – something so simple to treat, but which if left untreated could have very serious implications. While we were there, a child came in and was diagnosed with a bacterial infection, something the screening programme was able to capture at an early stage.
On the final day, some of the head teachers, district managers and key personnel from education and health, united in a handover
ceremony to mark the importance of the eye screening programme and general health. This was a great opportunity to gain the full commitment of these professionals to the programme; these head teachers now have the tools to implement annual screening in their schools – something that will make a long term difference for thousands of children.
As I left Bagamoyo, I thought about how this programme has brought real hope for a better future to so many children. It has brought eye care to the forefront of health and education, benefiting not only the children but their entire communities.
Having worked for Optometry Giving Sight for more than three years, I didn’t think I could be any more passionate about the work that we fund. Now that I have seen a project operate on the ground this has most certainly added a new dimension and I just want to reinforce our thanks to CooperVision and to all Optometry Giving Sight supporters – your support goes further than I even imagined possible.
The School Eye Health program is implemented by the Brien Holden Vision Institute in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and Ministry of Education and funded by CooperVision and Optometry Giving Sight. It aims to train 200 primary school teachers from 100 schools in Bagamoyo and Kibaha districts in vision screening and child eye health. It is hoped 70 000 children will be screened and referred to clinics and hospitals where necessary.
Photos: credit Rick Castiglioni (Cielo Pictures)
1. Above - Donna Power and Heath Clash at the school in Bagamoyo.
2. Above - Eden, Donna, Eva and Heath at Mlandizi primary school
3. Below L-R: Chausiku; Eva; Hassani; school students in Bagamoyo