This week was a special one for us in Calgary. Dr. Bo Wiafe and Kashinath Bhoosnurmath, our regional directors for Africa and India respectively, were in town for our annual Board strategy sessions. It was also significant that they were here for World Sight Day on October 13.
Each one guides Operation Eyesight’s work in their regions, drawing on a deep well of knowledge and experience. Both men are true leaders and visionaries, with their thumbs on the pulse of the nations they serve. Having both in our midst at the same time was a rare treat.
Three weeks ago we made an announcement inviting questions about our work in anticipation of World Sight Day. As our unquestioned experts in their areas, Bo and Kashinath were able to provide authoritative answers to many questions from both inside and outside our organization. Here are some examples:
QUESTION FROM A UNIVERSITY STUDENT: What is it like to be very poor and also blind?
ANSWER: This is a terrible combination, like a perfect storm of misfortune. Imagine struggling to survive, which is hard enough, and then losing your sight.
The poor of India and Africa are practical people. When resources are limited, those resources go to the ones with the best chance of surviving and contributing. In India, only five percent of blind boys go to school – for girls, it’s 2.5 percent. The rate of unemployment for the urban blind is 90 percent and 100 percent in rural areas. For many, if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Life becomes short.
Blind women are discriminated against – for them it is very hard. In the slums of India and remote parts of Africa, young children with serious eye problems often die before the age of five. Operation Eyesight knows that blindness is a disease of poverty, and it also contributes to poverty. Most of the world’s blindness happens to poor people, and most of it can be prevented or successfully treated – 80 percent! This is what we seek to address.
QUESTION FROM A STAFF MEMBER: In the regions where Operation Eyesight works you talk about people having poor eye health-seeking behaviour. Can you explain what that is?
ANSWER: We’ve found poor eye health-seeking behaviour in both India and Africa. It refers to people who are experiencing problems with their eyesight but are not taking care of their vision or seeking medical attention when needed. We’ve learned there are many good reasons for this, such as simple lack of awareness that help is available, superstitions or myths about eyes, a bad experience receiving treatment in the past, inability to pay for services or not being able to travel to a clinic or hospital. Our experience shows us that grassroots education and awareness campaigns go a long way to addressing many of these barriers.
In addition, Operation Eyesight takes eye care directly to communities and offers it free of charge when necessary. If a community is to be free of avoidable blindness, there must be general understanding and acceptance of basic eye health – people must desire good eyesight and they must seek it.
QUESTION FROM A DONOR: I can understand how people can be reluctant to travel to a clinic for fear of something happening to their homes and families. Do your programs offer any care for families when a patient leaves home to seek treatment?
ANSWER: No. One of our goals is self-reliance – this is one of the key differences between an “aid” approach which can lead to unhealthy dependence, and “development” which is all about local empowerment.
First, we try to dispel any misunderstandings or superstitions about eye care, explaining that it is okay to seek out treatment for the greater good. Then we encourage people to work within their community to find friends or neighbours to look after whatever they leave behind when they go to the hospital for one or two days. Operation Eyesight encourages people to find their own solutions to their problems.
If you have any questions or comments about us, our work, or any eye care related issues, feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll definitely get back to you. Have a great weekend!