Tanzania, Zanzibar, November 2006
In November 2006, the Third World EyeCare Society (TWECS) traveled to the island of Zanzibar, located off the coast of Tanzania in Africa. It required two days of travel time to get to Zanzibar from Vancouver. Zanzibar is a unique part of Africa as it has a blend of many cultures, including African, Arabic and Indian. The project was situated in the village of Jambiani on the east coast of the island, with a population of approximately 5000 people. The most common occupations in Jambiani are fishing, seaweed farming, and some tourism. Included in the project were four optometrists: project leader Dr. Jeremy Begalke from Alberta, Dr. Shaffin Gulamhusein from Ontario, as well as Dr. Eric Smart and Dr. Tammy Crawford from B.C. There were 14 other volunteers from across B.C. and Alberta, including opticians and optometric assistants, bringing 7000 pairs of donated glasses. One of the participants, Kristi Falconer, was a driving force behind getting TWECS to Jambiani. Kristi had spent time in Jambiani three years earlier working with deaf children. She noticed that almost no one in the village had glasses and that the access to any kind of eye care was minimal. On returning to Victoria, she contacted TWECS and helped initiate the process of sending a project there. Pat and Alistair Pirie, who are originally from British Columbia and have been living in Jambiani for a number of years, were instrumental in assisting TWECS while in Jambiani, The eye clinic was set up in their health and wellness clinic, which offers free care for the villagers. In addition, there was an outpouring of generosity from the people of Jambiani. Four hotels donated rooms and provided free meals for our group as their way of contributing to the project, and some of the villagers volunteered to work as interpreters (the main language spoken is Swahili).
The clinic ran from Monday to Friday for two weeks, leaving the weekends free for the volunteers to explore the large array of sights and scenes that Zanzibar has to offer. We managed to screen most of the children in the village by sending members of the team to each of the schools. If problems were detected, the children were sent to the main clinic for further testing. On entering the clinic, villagers would go through a check in process, and then have their visual acuities measured. This was followed by autorefraction, and then assessment by one of the optometrists. If patients required prescription lenses, they would see the opticians where they were fitted with the closest matching prescription that we had available. There were no eye surgeons on this trip however arrangements were made with an ophthalmologist in Stonetown, the capital city of Zanzibar, to perform surgeries at no charge. Signing patients up for surgery, however, was quite difficult as we found that the patients tended to have a fear of any type of surgery. This was quite unfortunate as cataracts are quite common in Jambiani due to amount of UV exposure that the people experience throughout a lifetime of working in sunlight and on the water without the use of protective lenses. A memorable moment for me was giving a highly myopic 12 year old her first pair of glasses and seeing the smile on her face as she looked around the clinic. Another was being able to treat a labourer who got limestone in his eye and monitoring the excellent progress he made as we followed him during the week. I am happy to report that we were able to see 4750 patients and provide over 2000 pairs of glasses. We were also able to provide medication for the treatment of glaucoma, as well as infection and allergy, thanks to donation of medications from Novartis and Alcon.
The project was a fabulous experience. I had an amazing time working with a great group of people, both the members of the team and all the volunteers in Jambiani. Alistair has reported back that when he now walks through the village, people are able to see and recognize him from a distance with their donated glasses. He notices the women using their reading glasses for their craft work and for the seaweed farming that earns an income for their families. We were able to help the teachers see again by simply treating their presbyopia, allowing them to continue to teach the next generation. The next trip for TWECS is in Vietnam in November 2007. Please continue to donate used eyeglasses and time to this great organization. And don’t forget about the EyeBall, the major fundraiser for TWECS, on June 16th at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver.