If I have to sum up in one word how I’m feeling about SeeKenya’s work as we leave 2021 behind, it’s this – hopeful.
Let’s face it, 2021 has been another year of unprecedented challenges and difficulties, as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world. It’s a year that many people would probably like to forget about and move on from, as quickly as possible.
For the SeeKenya team it’s been another frustrating 12 months as the health protection and travel restrictions have continued to prevent us from operating our pop-up eye care clinics. These have been a lifeline for the people of Northern Kenya; helping us to prevent blindness and improve the eyesight of thousands. Knowing how much of a difference we’ve been able to make to people’s lives over the last decade makes it even more painful each time we have to postpone a clinic, knowing how many people we could be helping.
Yet all is far from doom and gloom.
Our passion and commitment to giving Kenyans accessible eye care to improve their eyesight and quality of life hasn’t changed. Our longer-term plans have always included the establishment of a permanent eye-care clinic in Meru, giving us a solid base to deliver year-round treatment. The restrictions on international travel that the pandemic has brought have sharpened the focus on this, as it would have been able to continue to operate (albeit with new Covid-safe practices in place).
We had already sourced a location, specified plans for its refurbishment into a state-of-the-art eye care facility, raised some of the necessary funds and undertaken some of the foundational development work. But, with the need ever more pressing, we have increased our fundraising efforts, launching a prospectus for the clinic and reaching out to more potential donors. The response has been uplifting and encouraging as people and organisations have recognised the desperate need and pledged, or given, money, bringing us closer to our goal of building the clinic!
Being unable to operate in our usual way might have left us paralysed, or solely focused on the long-term solution. But what about now? Every day that we’re not in-country, providing life-changing eye care, hundreds (if not thousands) of people are unnecessarily losing their eyesight, livelihoods, quality of life – and even their lives…
So we’ve innovated. We’ve prayed, we’ve thought, we’ve looked at the lack of eye care from different perspectives and we’ve developed new approaches to make a difference in people’s lives right now. In December 2020 we launched our new Eye Health Information Programme. Two of the biggest causes of poor eye health in Kenya are: 1) a lack of education about good eye health and 2) poor environmental and hygiene conditions that cause damage to the eye. So we have produced an ongoing series of information videos that help people learn simple and effective ways that they can look after their eyes themselves and prevent damage from occurring. These videos are regularly broadcast to millions of people by our local partners, Edfri International but you can watch them here. We believe that they will make a difference and are monitoring their impact.
We have also begun trialling remote clinics. In the absence of providing in-person treatment, we are experimenting with ways in which we can continue to care for existing patients. Our UK-based team of highly-trained optometrists, each with many years of experience providing eye care in both the UK and Kenya, are working on ways to overcome the barrier of distance so that we can continue to help restore and improve our patients’ eyesight. Look out for more news about this in the coming year.
We also remain optimistic about running Covid-safe pop-up clinics in 2022. These remain an effective solution in the short-term and so we have spent time developing new operating practices and have a committed team that is ready to go when it is legal and safe to do so.
It’s for these reasons (and many others) that I remain hopeful. Yes, the future is uncertain but our vision hasn’t changed and our resolve to help improve people’s lives has remained solid - in fact it has strengthened. There are still opportunities to grasp and ways we can make a positive difference. We remain hopeful that our dreams for better eye care and improved quality of life for the people of Northern Kenya will become a reality.
One last thing… We have been so moved and encouraged this year by the generosity of our caring supporters, each one joining us in our mission. We are so grateful for every one of them.
If you would like to help make our goal of permanent eye-care in Northern Kenya a reality or support our work in general, please find out more here.
Written by Andy Heald (SeeKenya Trustee)