Springtime stories from Sierra Leone Our supporters help us to thrive as a charity so we can help the world to see. Because of this support, we have been able to go from strength to strength over many years. And this has helped us to win even more support from funders such as USAID's Childhood Blindness Programme and The Clothworker's Foundation. Thank you! With this new funding, we are extending access to eye care and improving eye health for school children and adults in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. We have updates - long-lasting change is on its way for thousands of people! In January, alongside professional eye care staff from our partner, the Kenema District Health Management team, we trained 160 teachers in vision screening and eye health, which was made possible by the generous support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). These teachers now have the skills to identify a child or adult with vision difficulties. They have gone on to screen over 22,000 children in 80 schools and 494 other teachers too. That's amazing! You can see teachers Hannah Musukula Kamara and Salamatu Kallon, putting their new skills to use, in the picture above. In the next step, a mobile eye health unit will visit each school. Optometry Technicians will give eye tests to the 2,200 students and 198 teachers who have been newly identified with poor vision. Any child or teacher who needs glasses will receive them free of charge. Before the project, eye care services, including initial vision screening, were only available at some distance from where people lived, at the district level hospital. By training teachers, it strengthens the health system overall, leaving trained human resources and health infrastructure in the heart of local communities, improving vision for people in the long-term. Because of this more children will be likely to reach their potential in school, achieve better education, and in the long term have greater opportunities when they leave school. And teachers can protect and improve their own eyesight in the long-term and remain in work. This is good for their own livelihood and great for education in Sierra Leone. Outside of schools, we are just as busy in other parts of Kenema District, rolling out a two-year project to strengthen Primary Eye Care, with thanks to The Clothworker's Foundation. Put simply, this means the services for eye health are moved closer to the people who need them. We know that it is vital to consult with and involve people in what is happening in their community. So, we started the project with meetings with chiefs, society leaders, women’s leaders, youth leaders, religious leaders, and health workers in all sixteen chiefdoms in the district. We answered people’s questions and explained how the project will benefit their community. Then, working alongside our partner, Kenema District Health Management team, we went on to train community health officers in Primary Eye Care, using a method approved by the World Health Organization. Now, 16 Community Health Officers and 240 Community Health Workers have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to screen and detect eye conditions during their daily work. And they can either treat patients or refer them on to a Vision Centre. At the Vision Centre in Kenema, previously set up by VAO, one of VAO’s professional volunteers from the UK, Jonathan Hall, was able to boost the skills of six Optometry Technicians, with training in Low Vision, Paediatric Optometry, Binocular Vision and detection of pathology, particularly around Glaucoma. As a result, a 16-year-old girl was examined and, as well as needing glasses for poor vision, she was found to have glaucoma and was referred by the team to the hospital for immediate treatment. There is a lot more news to come from Kenema – we are launching a big campaign throughout the district to raise awareness and improve understanding around eye health. We want to challenge misconceptions around eye conditions, make people aware of the eye care services available to them, and to reduce stigma around wearing glasses too. More soon!