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Restoring sight on a remote island

September 2017
Sightsavers employee Sarah sitting on a boat with 12 other people.

“Tumbatu is a 25-minute boat ride from the main island”

Sarah Filbey visited an island off the coast of Zanzibar to find out how Sightsavers is helping people with visual impairments in far-flung communities.

Tumbatu is the smallest of three islands making up Zanzibar, a part of Tanzania situated off its north-east coastline. Tumbatu is a 25-minute boat ride from the main island. We are here to visit Jongowe Primary School, one of six schools on the island. The school has 508 students, and of these 17 children have been registered with a disability. Five of the students are visually impaired.

We are attending a training session for the teachers. A makeshift projector screen has been set up and Dr Rajab is describing the different parts of the eye and common eye conditions. He is teaching the teachers how to respond if they discover their students suffer from one of these conditions. They also learn how to accommodate children with low vision, for example by using darker pens and exercise books with thicker lines.

It is impressive to see these local teachers learning how to support students with low vision: it’s vital for teachers to have these skills, especially on a remote island like this, where access to eye health care is not easily available. The teachers are mainly female and their colourful headscarves brighten up the room.

 

A long way from medical facilities

The following day we make our way back to Tumbatu Island, and this time the boat ride is less peaceful, as heavy rain starts to fall and we pull a large plastic sheet over the boat and huddle underneath to keep dry. I realise just how vital it is that Dr Rajab and his colleagues come out regularly to see the visually impaired children here. The islanders are so far from medical facilities and many families would struggle to afford making the journey.

Today, Dr Rajab and his team are testing the sight of a group of students at Jongwe Secondary School that have been identified by their teachers as potentially having low vision. The team tests the eye sight of 67 children in total, 28 of whom are identified as needing spectacles. It is striking to see the respect that the children show towards the doctors and the eye health staff, almost revering.

Nachum, age 18, is one of the students lucky enough to get her new glasses today. “I noticed I couldn’t see the small letters on the blackboard,” she tells us. She told her parents that she struggled to see, but they couldn’t afford to take her to the hospital on the main island. She’s already noticing a significant improvement in her sight, and tells me she thinks the glasses will make a big difference to her studies.

By Sarah Filbey, Senior Content Producer

Teacher Mtumwa Salini Hamadi covers one eye to simulate an eye test as part of the training session.

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