Four years ago, I left home for the first time – and found myself in Kenya. Little did I know then how much a month spent in this country would change my life.* From the richness of Kenya’s cultures, to the time spent with incredible people serving a real purpose of delivering essential eye care services.
There is always a wide variety of visitors to the clinics – from individuals and families living in severe poverty to community leaders and government officials. One story I particularly recollect was Esther’s. Esther used to be a top magistrate fighting for justice in her community. But she had to give it up when her eyesight deteriorated due to an inherited genetic condition. Sadly, we could do little to restore her sight.
Pictured above is Esther with SeeKenya Optometrist Maria
However, we were able to gift her with a magnifier that enlarges print to 10x its normal size, generously donated by the RNIB (Royal National Institute for Blind People). As a result, Esther was just about able to read a newspaper – a huge step forwards. Using a large magnification system allows her to scan a page and project it onto a screen. These methods are not complicated; they are, in fact, very simple. But the evidence of their effects was displayed on Esther’s radiant face! She was so delighted that this would help her see. Esther can sustain her own livelihood, and she will reap the benefits for many years to come.
Relationships within the team form quickly as you spend 24/7 together; from long 12+ hour days working in the clinic, to sharing stories of the day’s happenings over ugali (a type of maize porridge) and chapatis, to watching the sun setting across a savannah. A notable highlight that is common among SeeKenya volunteers is church at Kambakia Christian Centre for their Sunday morning/afternoon service (it tends to be an all-day affair!). I was humbled to see their genuine, authentic faith in action - from generously giving money to serve their community, to welcoming us strangers as friends.
The experience of SeeKenya didn’t end for me when we touched back down at Heathrow. In fact, due to my experiences in Kenya during my gap year, I changed my university and course and, doing a dramatic 180-degree turn, I ended up studying International Development at the University of Sussex. Over the past three years, I’ve explored what ‘Development’ looks like from every angle (the good, and crucially, the not-so-good), analysing the methods charities use as they endeavour to make the world more equal and justice-centred.
To that end, I’ve stayed connected with SeeKenya. I believe in their values, where they are envisioning their future, and the legacy they are creating of a permanent, self-sustaining eye care clinic led and run by Kenyans. It is an inspiring organisation to champion.
*I spent two weeks with SeeKenya, and another two weeks based in Nairobi with Agape organisation.
Written by Lizzi Joyner