Regular eye tests provide children a view for the future

Children from poor families are in a disadvantaged position when it comes to developing themselves. When they have poor eyesight as well, their chances for learning become even smaller. In earlier contacts with local schools Bibiana Gaviria and Olga Giraldo from Wood Finishes & Adhesives in Medellín, Colombia had heard from the teachers about the low performance of some children and they wondered if this was caused by bad eyesight. For this reason they decided to conduct research among children from low income families in order to assess if and how often their eyes are tested, if the parents could afford the required treatment and if they were able to participate during the events.

Their findings were alarming and they came to the conclusion that there was a need to evaluate approximately 200 children between 4 and 12 years old. Many of them never had their eyes tested and some only every two years or more, whereas these should be carried out at least once a year with school aged children. ‘Considering that the eyes are an important part of the five senses necessary for learning and starting with the premise that you learn from childhood, we proposed a project for support from the Community Program’, said Bibiana. The approved program involved conducting eye tests on children in the ages of 4 and 12 in the rural schools near their production site in the villages San Diego, La Meseta and Encenillos. These villages were chosen because the parents in this region have either a scarce income or are unemployed and they don’t have the resources to pay for the health insurance for their families.

Before actually carrying out the eye tests a lot of preparatory work had to be done. Bibiana and Olga contacted the schools to obtain the commitment of the teachers and principals to help assemble and inform the parents about the importance of the eye tests. Also a room was needed for executing the tests by the healthcare professionals and the required follow up on children who needed permanent eye glasses or other eye treatment was discussed. The next step was to select the best eye clinic in the city and convince them to participate in this social work. Óptica Santa Lucía gladly accepted the invitation and a partnership was set up.

Our two enthusiastic initiators convinced 10 of their colleagues, including the company doctor, to participate as volunteers by carrying out the logistics of the project like the transport and installation of the medical equipment, organizing the appointments, making sure the children were on time, the space required by the optometrist as well as assisting with the training of the parents and children on the right behavior to prevent eye diseases and running the nurseries. During the project 194 children were evaluated, 66 of whom needed glasses, 18 needed prescriptions filled with their respective medicine for one month and two were referred to a specialist. Bibiana managed to make the appointments for these low income kids and later accompanied them, together with the parents, to the specialist.

On the day of the delivery of the medicine and glasses several employees participated helping with the logistics of the event. Olga informed the parents, teachers and kids about the importance of the yearly eye tests and the correct use of glasses and respect for kids wearing them. The optometrist gave a presentation on possible problems with vision and how a timely evaluation and diagnosis can diminish or even prevent these problems.

Some employees took advantage of the event and gave a presentation about the importance of recycling and how this should be done in practice. With support from the Community Program the school in the community of San Diego received 42 bins to be used for recycling. Moreover colored garbage bags were provided which can be used in the separation of waste material such as Ordinary, Paper and Cardboard, and Plastic. It was explained that this activity will be part of a project between the company, the kids at the school and the parents who earn a living with recycling activities. Finally a healthy snack was given to all and a recreational space was provided for the kids.

The two children with severe eye problems are under the safe guidance of Bibiana and Olga who help them with transportation to the clinic Óptica Santa Lucía in the city and back to their community. They help the parents as well by explaining the required procedures as well as the costs until the treatment is completed. Thanks to our dedicated volunteers the 200 children will have a better perspective for their future.