Sarah works as the Communications Manager for CBM UK, the UK’s leading charity transforming the lives of people with disabilities in the poorest places in the world. Sarah usually works from an office in Cambridge, but seeing the progress of the Light Up Lives campaign found her travelling much further afield, visiting the Midlands Province in Zimbabwe.
Sarah was nervous to take the trip. It was her 1st time out of Europe in over 15 years, and the longest time leaving young children at home. But Sarah was keen to see the projects in Zimbabwe. Worldwide a shocking 3 out of 4 people who are blind don’t need to be. 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.
The money raised by the Light Up Lives campaign has resulted in the number of people living needlessly blind in Zimbabwe being significantly reduced. Just halfway through, the campaign has raised an amazing £1.2 million to improve access to vital eye health services in the Midlands Province. Every eligible pound has also been matched by the UK government. By the end of the 3-year project CBM aim to have helped more than 44,000 people with eye health problems. The country has a desperate shortage of trained eye health workers so CBM is also using funds to train them up. Over 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 8 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.
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. Whilst 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. 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”
Sarah has also enlisted support from celebrity Gyles Brandreth (pictured above), renowned author and famous from Good Morning Britain, The One Show, Just A Minute, and currently starring on ITV’s This Morning, securing his agreement to be photographed in a wonderful CBM branded jumper and to also encourage the public to support CBM’s sight saving work www.cbmuk.org.uk/donate.