Vision Aid Overseas has kick started the Support a School campaign over the last year, and all thanks to our amazing supporters - thank you!

Support a School was born out of the huge unmet need for eye health services for school children in Ethiopia. With our supporters help, it effectively enables hundreds of children in poor communities to get access to basic but life changing eye health care. It allows each school to provide comprehensive eye care services to their students and teachers, through a proven internationally recognised school eye health approach. Together we know we can achieve our ultimate goal, to ensure more children and teachers can see clearly to learn and earn.

What have we achieved so far?

We have been able to begin all the essential preparatory work to get Support a School underway, in early 2019. Firstly, we met with all our key partners and stakeholders in the project location of East Wollega, a poor rural area in the Oromia district of Ethiopia, home to 1.2 million people who have very limited access to eye health services. The groups we have been working with include the local government and Ministry of Education, who helped us select which schools to include in Support a School, ensuring the most rural schools in the area were not left behind. We have also been regularly working with the local University Hospital, another key partner whose Vision Centre we plan to strengthen, so it can see more patients, including all the children from the schools who are referred for specialist eye care treatment and where prescription glasses will be made.

A success of this partnership already, is the government agreeing in January 2019 to provide more eye health staff to the University Hospital’s Vision Centre. It now has a new Ophthalmologist, two new Optometrists and three new Ophthalmic Nurses, which is great news for the wider community including the children. Before this, there was just one recently graduated Optometrist and no equipment for him to practice.

In April last year we began Support a School by testing our plans in a small-scale pilot which focused on testing Ethiopia’s recently designed National Teacher Training Manual for Comprehensive School Eye Health across 25 schools in East Wollega. VAO’s Country Manager, Belachew Paulos, was heavily involved in the manual’s creation and this test pilot, in collaboration with local government. It is now the reference document for all NGOs to provide School Eye Health Teacher Training, including ours. 

Training for primary school Teachers on School eye Health. Wollega University, Nekemte Town, Ethiopia, April 2019.

Later in the year, we were also grateful to receive additional support from Essilor who provided us with the equipment required to glaze new glasses as well as a stock of glasses for those students and teachers who will need them. Since the equipment was being sent from China, its arrival in Ethiopia was faced with significant delays due to the Coronavirus outbreak and consequent restrictions on exports and freight companies. This equipment is now in Ethiopia and ready to be installed in the University Hospital’s Vision Centre, another great step forward.

What next?

With preparations complete, we were ready to start in-school activities, beginning with training 40 teachers across 20 schools in how to screen their students and colleagues for vision problems in April 2020. The rest of the planned activities were then to follow this training until the end of the school year in July. However, the spread of Coronavirus forced Ethiopia to close all schools across the country at the end of March and a State of Emergency was then declared in early April, which will be in effect until the start of September 2020. This has meant a total stop to all our school and community activities planned for the coming months. We are planning, however, to restart in the new academic year in early October 2020 with the teacher led screening in all schools, followed by sending the optometrist-led Mobile Eye Clinics from the University Hospital to each school to provide full eye tests to those children and teachers identified through the screening, and refer those children and teachers with more serious issues on to the University Hospital. The prescriptions for children and teachers who need glasses will be taken to the Vision Centre, at the University Hospital, to be made up and the Mobile Eye Clinic will revisit the school to dispense and fit the glasses.

We are patiently waiting to make sure all children and teachers have access to quality eye care and know that our Support a School approach will change the lives of thousands of children. We have seen it work before; just look what we’ve achieved with this model elsewhere in the last year.

Spotlight on Zambia

Just as in Ethiopia, a significant number of Zambian children suffer from childhood blindness or vision impairment, many of which are a result of uncorrected refractive error. Over the last year, we have been able to train 146 teachers, across 73 schools in the Kafue district of Zambia in vision screening, child protection and safeguarding, as part of our wider school eye health programme. The training, like in Ethiopia, was based on internationally approved guidelines, and included testing a student and teacher eyesight and recognising common issues such as conjunctivitis. As a result of this training, the teachers were then able to screen 18,713 children which revealed that 5,958 children had potential eye problems and were referred to be seen by the Mobile Eye Clinic team.

Thanks to this programme, we were able to provide 621 pairs of glasses to correct refractive error and administer 3,894 children who had various types of eye infections, with much needed eye drops. A further 60 were referred to the tertiary hospital for more thorough examination, and in some cases, surgery. Thanks to this work, these students can now see clearly in and out of the classroom thanks to simple effective steps which we aim to replicate in more classrooms in Ethiopia, Zambia, Sierra Leone and beyond.

Thank you for your support and trust in our work. We look forward to updating you with similar success stories in Ethiopia very soon.