I’ve had an interesting time since our last blog. I have just returned from Sierra Leone, where I was volunteering my services to help train local eye care workers. I am also helping to launch an eye care project in the remotest areas that reaches some of the poorest people on earth.
I was so inspired by the spirit of the people that I met, the poverty I witnessed, and the poor eyesight problems I encountered, that I thought I might dedicate this newsletter to telling you their story. At times heart-breaking, but there is hope for a bright future in Sierra Leone, which I hope you find interesting.
So Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa the same size as Ireland, with about the same amount of people (around 7 million). It is devastatingly poor, with life expectancy only 53 years of age! More than 10% of children die before they are 5 years of age. It is the eighth poorest country on earth with many Sierra Leoneans struggling to survive on less than £1 per day.
And with poverty comes all the other problems. In particular poor eyesight. 84% of the population need glasses but don’t have them. And 6 in every 100 people over 50 years old are blind. The saddest thing is that 91% of this blindness is avoidable. The problem is they do not receive the eye care that would avoid this blindness.
In the whole country there are just 3 optometrists like me. But they are all based in Freetown, the capital city on the west coast. People are too poor to travel the journey of many hours to Freetown. It might as well be on another planet to them.
There is no National Health Service. Everything must be paid for. Impossible when you haven’t enough money even to feed yourself.
But that’s the bad news. Read on for the good news that is bringing a ray of hope to the wonderful people in this desperate situation…
“Our names are Lansana Lahun and Ismail Kanneh. We have lived all our lives in Kailahun district in Sierra Leone. We were very fortunate when Vision Aid Overseas sponsored us to train as Optometric Technicians. We now work at Kailahun Government Hospital providing eye tests and glasses in the Vision Centre that Vision Aid also created for us.
Local people in the Kailahun district now find it easy to visit us at the vision centre. The challenge is the many thousands of others who are unable to visit as they live far away and they can’t afford to pay for transport. Very often these are the poorest people in our community and those most in need of eye care and glasses.
We are the only 2 people providing eye tests and glasses in our whole district and, unless we reach these people, they can’t receive the glasses they so desperately need. Even worse, many of them are likely to lose their eyesight from eye diseases that go undetected.
So we are pleased that Vision Aid Overseas, with the help of Jonathan Hall Opticians, provide us with the funds and training we need to reach these most vulnerable people in our society. Thanks to them we are able to care for the eyesight of as many people as we can in our own community.
Thank you Vision Aid Overseas, and thank you Jonathan Hall Opticians. Together we are helping the world to see.”
These two young men living in one of the poorest countries on earth were given a lifeline by Vision Aid Overseas, the UK vision charity that I volunteer with. Now they are able to give lifelines themselves to so many more of their own people through the gift of eyesight.
This allows people to become educated and get jobs or start businesses…to extricate themselves from the poverty trap. I think it’s wonderful and I think it is what “giving” should be about. Where you actually know that every penny you give will make a difference to someone else’s life. And in turn, they will be able to make a difference to someone else’s life…and so on.
We are so proud of Lansana and Ismail, dedicating their lives to give back to their own community. We will help them in every way we can, with your help.
It’s around this time of year we all get asked to donate to a seemingly endless stream of charitable causes. Fair enough I suppose as we are fortunate in our part of the world to be able to spare some money for others and we want for very little. However, most of us remain sceptical as to actually how much of our donations get to the people who need it. Well, here’s a cause that is different. Every penny we give goes directly to the Optometric Technicians in Sierra Leone.
As a practice, we have been donating 1% of our sales from eye tests and glasses to this project for the last 3 years. We’ve donated just over £13,000 so far and we’re pretty pleased about that! If you have been moved by Lansana and Ismail’s story, and would like to partner with us in directly helping them give the gift of sight back to the poorest people, then you really can do that!
If you would like, you can donate directly to them through our dedicated fundraising page at https://www.visionaidoverseas.org/fundraisers/jonathan-hall-opticians.
Alternatively, you can donate in our practice or by sending your donation to Vision Aid Overseas (Sierra Leone), c/o Jonathan Hall Opticians, 6-7 Kings Square, Kings Road, Belfast, BT5 7EA.
And between myself, Lansana, Ismail and Vision Aid Overseas, we will make sure it happens.