Sarah Bennington, communications manager for disabilities charity CBM UK, has returned from a “transformative” visit to Zimbabwe, where she saw for herself the progress being made in the Light Up Lives campaign.
Sarah works in CBM’s Cambridge office on Mercers Row, and was nervous about leaving her young children at home, but she wanted to see how the £1.2m raised by CBM’s Light Up Lives appeal was improving access to vital eye health services in Zimbabwe’s Midlands province.
The appeal received a huge boost by securing an agreement with TV personality and author Gyles Brandreth to be photographed in a CBM branded jumper and to also encourage the public to support CBM’s sight saving work.
The money raised by the Light Up Lives campaign has resulted in the number of people living needlessly blind in Zimbabwe being significantly reduced.
Sarah was aware that Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world, resulting in innumerable adults being unable to work or live independently. Many people in the Midlands Province cannot access the eye health services they need which leads to avoidable blindness. The area has a population of 1,614,941 and is served by just 2 ophthalmologists and 22 ophthalmic nurses. Eye health services are often hard to reach and the distance involved coupled with high transport costs make eye health services unaffordable and inaccessible to vulnerable groups such as older people and people with disabilities.
Every eligible pound raised in the appeal was matched by the UK government. By the end of the three-year project CBM aims to have helped more than 44,000 people with eye health problems. CBM is also using funds to train them up – more than one thousand eye health workers have already been trained up, who are now identifying adults with eye health problems, and referring them for treatment.
Hospitals are also ill equipped, so money raised has also been invested to improve hospital infrastructures across all eight of the district hospitals in the Midlands Province, including providing essential new equipment and glasses to support people with low vision so they can go to school, earn a living and be active in their communities. Thousands of cataract surgeries have already been delivered in the hospitals, including at outreach camps, to reduce the distances patients living in rural areas need to travel, helping them access treatment before sight is totally lost. CBM is also partnering with local organisations to strengthen eye health systems to ensure maximum long-term benefit.
The mission to find out more meant Sarah spent time with patients, both before, during, and after their cataract surgery.
“Nothing had prepared me for seeing CBM’s sight-saving work with my own eyes,” she says. “While travelling around I met people who had accessed free cataract surgery through the Light Up Lives project – funded by fantastic CBM supporters and the UK government, through their UK Aid Match scheme.
She added: “Nothing can compare to seeing the reaction of individuals when their bandages were removed. It’s hard to describe the looks of amazement and joy when people realise that the operation has worked, that they can see again! You’re witnessing a moment that will transform the rest of this person’s life. It was a joyful and transformative experience for me.”
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