I’ve needed to wear glasses since I was nine years old and I know that without them, I would be prevented from living well; from working, driving, seeing my wife and children. For the last few years, I have supported SeeKenya, because I know that giving someone back their sight gives them back their life, be it education, a thriving livelihood, or even basic survival! I never thought I would be able to volunteer on one of the clinic trips but a recent change in circumstances enabled me to serve on the February 2019 clinic team, where my perspective of SeeKenya’s work was really brought into focus.
The pre-trip training gave me some insight into what roles I could do and it was really helpful to learn from people who had been before but I was really struggling with the idea of using expensive medical equipment up close and personal with real people – this is so far outside of my comfort zone. Nonetheless, Pete, Rachel, Maria, Paul and the core team are so professional, patient and helpful that I felt more confident about having a go at various roles.
So, during my time in the clinic, I tested people’s vision with eye charts, measured eye pressure with a Tonometer, gauging people’s prescriptions with an Auto-Refractor, worked in the lab making glasses, helped people choose frames and fitting them with glasses. Although I had no prior experience of doing these things before, the professionals have created simple processes to follow and are always around overseeing things and giving support (as well as doing their own jobs!).
Across the eight days the clinic was open (and very long days some of them!) we served over 1,000 people and were able to help every person in some way. A lot of people (particularly children) were suffering very painful, and potentially blinding, allergies. Others were given a pair of glasses to bring their world into focus. Our on-site lab produced 927 pairs of prescription spectacles – each pair bespoke. We were even able to help improve the lives of people with incurable sight loss, by easing their pain or giving them an aid to make everyday living more accessible.
There were so many people, each with their own story – but one that has really stuck with me is Tony. Tony came to the clinic in October last year. He could barely see and was in terrible pain. A graphics design student, Tony had been robbed of his mobile phone and laptop while leaving his university class. The robbers threw acid in his face so that he couldn’t identify them and left him for dead. Thankfully, he was found and taken to hospital where doctors saved his life – but tragically, not his sight. Nor, through lack of specialist expertise, could they relieve his intense pain. Thankfully, SeeKenya’s optometrists could.
I met Tony, who had come back to the clinic, for a check-up. Thanks to the treatment he had received at the last clinic a small (but just about usable) amount of his sight had returned – miraculously enabling him to keep creating graphics – albeit by having paper or a tablet only centimetres away from his face. He and his family were so grateful to the SeeKenya team, who this time were also able to provide him with some visual aids and are seeking other solutions back in the UK to help both restore his eyesight further and help him use what sight he has. With this help Tony believes he may be able to finish his design course. I’ll never forget his gratitude or his inspiring attitude – to carry on, despite the debilitating horror he experienced.
By being part of the SeeKenya team myself, my perspective on its work has changed. I’ve gone from wondering about the difference the charity makes for people, to seeing for myself the look of wonder on their faces when I handed them a pair of glasses and they saw their world around them properly – some perhaps for the very first time. It is such a beautiful thing, knowing that this one gift could improve their life forever. It is a humbling privilege to know that I’d played some small part of giving someone new freedom and the opportunity for a better life.
Written by Andy Heald - February 2019 Volunteer