On May 13, a team of three from North America made up of an Epidemiologist, Lance Putman, his partner Jennifer Putman (Masters in Counseling specializing in trauma care) and myself, Greg Wiens (Faith Coordinator with Global Vision 2020) arrived in Malawi with the purpose of helping set up our first permanent Global Vision 2020 eye-clinics.
I had previously been in Malawi in 2018 and 2019, where I trained a team of Mennonite Congolese refugees who are living in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp on how to use the Global Vision 2020 U-See. While Covid 19 didn’t allow for me to travel to Malawi in 2020, I did manage to resupply them with 1000 eyeglasses that year.
The day after we arrived, the government formally approved our application for permanent eye clinics. Over the next 14 days, we traveled to four of the six health districts of Malawi, working in conjunction with the Malawi Health as we strategized how to bring affordable eyeglasses to people at the village level. On top of making basic spherical prescription eyeglasses, we were also able to make prescriptions for eye drops, coordinate basic procedures for conditions such as pterygium, set up appointments for cataract surgeries, all the while working in conjunction with local optometrists. Over the two weeks close to 1000 eyeglasses were made and sold for around $5. All the profits went to the Congolese Mennonite Refugees.
A great example of this joint effort is summed up in the story of how we helped a 13 year old girl in rural Malawi. She came into the clinic unable to see any of the lines on the eye chart. With the aid of the U-See we made her the strongest prescription that we had, negative 6. With these new eyeglasses where she could see line 3 out of 11. That is when the optometrist that we were partnering with that day, Dr. Innocent Kabwaza, came and saw her. He was very happy with what we had been able to do. Then he pulled out his portable optometry testing kit, and he found that she needed a -20 prescription! Through connections that we had made together over the previous week, we were able to track down the right prescription and have them ground to fit the frame that we had provided. In the end, we as a team, had given a 13 years old girl 2020 vision for around $30!
Our short-term goals are to set up two clinics. First we are setting up a permanent eye clinic in Dzaleka, and the second in a small village just off the #1 Highway. This second clinic is strategically 15 minutes away from both the Malawi International Airport and the refugee camp, while on the main highway to the capital Lilongwe. Clinics will start as soon as renovations are done. We will be selling the eyeglasses for around $6 per pair in the refugee camp and the eyeglasses will be sold for about $8 in our other clinics. In the meantime, we will continue setting up mobile clinics in local schools and churches.
Our primary goal is to reproduce this programme all over Malawi and then expand to all over Sub-Saharan Africa, starting wherever there are refugee camps, using them as our jumping off point. A secondary goal, when possible, is to help repatriate some of our Congolese Mennonite workers back to their country of origin, to work in future eyeglass clinics. These plans are in their infancy, but we hope to begin these plans in 2022.
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