Sightsavers aims to help every person with avoidable sight loss, particularly in developing countries where eye care facilities are scarce. As part of our School Health Integrated Programme (SHIP), we’ve been training teachers to screen children for vision problems at school, and donating glasses when needed. In Pakistan we’ve screened more than 4,000 children and hope to screen 67,000 in 2020.
Zill is 10 years old and lives in Islamabad with his family. He loves playing sports and learning maths. He noticed he was having trouble reading some of the words on the board in class.
“I sit in the second row and could only read when words were written in large letters in the book or on the board but when written in the small size then I faced problems reading,” he tells Sightsavers.
“I also had trouble playing cricket which made me feel angry and I felt like crying, and sometimes the other children laughed at me.
“I had never had an eye test before, but when my teacher screened my eyes I learned I had an issue with my vision and this was why I was having problems, and she told me that I needed glasses,” he adds.
“When I told my parents, they said it’s a good thing. I hope the glasses will help me perform better in exams, Inshallah.”
Nayab’s favourite subject is science, and she hopes to become a doctor in the army when she is older.
“I knew I had a problem with my eyes, but my parents didn’t take me for an eye test,” she says.
“The blackboard appeared blurred to me so in class I had to ask my classmates sitting next to me for help, and at home I used to manage it with books and copies so I could put them close to my face.
“I had never had an eye test before the one at school. When I received the glasses initially and I used them the very first time, I did not like them, but I got used to them after a while.”
Nayab is happy she can see with more clarity, which has a positive impact on her studies. “The blackboard looks clear now – sometimes I sit in the front row but even at the back I see clearly!
“My friends say they look good and they suit me too – I am happy that I look mature.
“I want to motivate other girls who are worried about wearing glasses and tell them that it will help them in their studies and they will make no more mistakes copying from the blackboard. It will be over.”
Fourteen-year-old Maryam lives with her parents and siblings in Islamabad. She particularly enjoys studying maths and hopes to be a teacher. Like many teenage girls she was concerned about her appearance and was self-conscious about wearing glasses.
“I had water in my eyes and experienced severe headaches whenever I tried to study or do anything involving my sight. I had to rely on other students to help me.”
At her first screening, her teacher could not find a problem with Maryam’s vision, but after a second opinion from a doctor, Maryam was told she would need glasses. She was excited that she would be able to see clearly again in class.
“My brother and sister were saying that I was looking good wearing the glasses, and some schoolmates were also saying that glasses suit me.
“However, some of my classmates were saying that I was not looking good wearing the glasses. But despite such comments, I kept on wearing the glasses.”
She no longer has difficulty doing homework and believes now her school performance will start to improve. “As far as my studies are concerned, I can study better now and I do not feel headaches anymore when I study,” she tells Sightsavers.
Saadia, a maths teacher, is one of the educators we have trained as part of the programme.
“When we began the eye screening training, we had no idea that its impact would be so big – we thought that once it was over there would be no follow up and we had no idea about the advantages it would provide for the children. But once we carried out the screening process ourselves, then we came to recognise its worth.
“We presumed that if any child’s eyesight was weak, they would tell their parents, who would take them for an eye test. But when we carried out the entire process, we realised that not every child can discuss their issues at home,” she says.
Saadia noted that many of the children did not realise they had vision problems – students sitting at the back of the room who were struggling to read the board assumed others in the same position were having trouble too.
“It’s vital that we continue SHIP in the future too, and should be scaled up to all other schools, especially those in rural areas of Punjab where children do not have access to hospitals,” she adds.
Saadia says that the programme was so important as it helped to educate the parents too.
“Some students had complained about their poor vision but the parents did not provide them with glasses, and instead gave them headache medicines. So we made sure to meet with the parents to explain the problems when the results came back.”
Communication is the biggest problem, Saadia notes. “Often our children are unable to share their issues with the teachers or with their parents. And the children are the ones who are suffering the most, since we cannot understand their problems.
“It will take some time to gain the confidence of the parents – when the government ran similar schemes, for example school deworming programmes, the parents resisted. But things are starting to move forward and I hope things will get better day by day.”