A 64 year old retired optometrist from Dorset, has recently returned from Ethiopia. Paul Wallis visited the country with the charity Vision Aid Overseas VAO, whose aims are to provide glasses and training to people in Africa who wouldn’t normally have access to eye care professionals.
Paul was fortunate to be involved in setting up the first low vision clinic in Ethiopia for visually impaired people, ‘VIP’s.’
Paul said it was a tremendous achievement: “I was able to mentor a locally trained optometrist in the practical application of low vision care and rehabilitation. This project is a pilot for further low vision clinics across the country, I was asked to go back to teach about low vision at the university in Gondar.”
There is little help for people who lose vision unlike this country, so to help with this we set about organising the first ever support group in the country. There are no support groups for any diseases at all out there.
“I was working with a local charity GTM who run a small hospital originally set up 30 years ago that has gradually expanded its size and services. They realised there was a major problem with visually impaired people having no help.“
As a self help activity Paul Instigated making white canes from bamboo for VIP’s which is sustainable as the bamboo is grown on site. Any surplus sticks can be sold on for profit as a money raising activity. The clinic is in Butajira a town of 50,000 people but it covers on outreach a population of 1.5 million. A second low vision clinic in Addis Ababa is planned for the Menelik hospital where a new five storey unit is being built. The population of 110 million has over 3 million people with severe visual impairment, lack of glasses is the third cause of visual impairment in the country. Paul is thrilled to go back to see how his plans have been implemented, and follow the progress of the children he met in June.
“A lot of children drop out of school due to poor vision. A telescope to see the blackboard and a hand magnifier mean children and young adults can return to school to complete their education. The supply of simple equipment that is low cost in the UK is expensive for a poor rural family in Ethiopia.”
Two short videos show this amazing work in action, so please click an image to watch…