Specsavers' sees its vision for Zambia realised

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Millions of people in Zambia have been handed the gift of sight thanks to a marathon fundraising effort by Specsavers opticians throughout the UK.

Specsavers provides glasses in Zambia

Specsavers providing glasses and vision care in Zambia

For children, if you can’t see see to read and write or see the blackboard, then your education is extremely hampered and if you can’t see to work then you cannot support your family.

Until now, there has been no public accessible eyecare provision for the one in four people in Zambia who desperately require it. Three million Zambians have visual difficulties, with 100,000 of those suffering from serious visual impairment.*

But now, thanks to more than £300,000 raised by Specsavers staff and customers, a school for optometry has been built in the capital, Lusaka, and students have already begun training to become qualified optometrists.

Working with eyecare charity, Vision Aid Overseas, Specsavers raised enough money to fund not only the teaching facility, but two vision centres in the country’s Central and Luapula provinces. Until now, there have been just a handful of trained optometrists serving the country’s 12m population, meaning that those requiring vital eyecare have had to rely on volunteers and overseas aid.

The race is now on for Specsavers stores to raise a further £300,000 to fund six more vision centres – one in each province of Zambia – by 2015, bringing the company closer to its mission to set up a sustainable eyecare service for the entire country.

The optometry teaching facility, officially opened by Specsavers founder Dame Mary Perkins, was named in her honour in recognition of Specsavers’ support of the project.

She says: ‘This is a critical facility which will help transform the lives of people living in Zambia who have vision difficulties. During my time there I visited some of the outreach clinics to see for myself what an incredible difference an eye examination and a simple pair of glasses can make in someone’s life – something we in the western world take very much for granted.

‘For children, if you can’t see see to read and write or see the blackboard, then your education is extremely hampered and if you can’t see to work then you cannot support your family. This can mean the difference between life and death in rural communities. It really is as simple as that – properly prescribed spectacles hold the key to whether someone can see or not.

‘This new school of optometry will ensure that local students are taught to refract and dispense glasses, providing a long-term sustainable solution to the country’s eyecare problem. Specsavers will work hard to raise a further £300,000 and I personally guarantee that the whole of Zambia will have access to eyecare by 2015.’                    

Specsavers’ Vision Aid Overseas ambassador, broadcaster and journalist Fiona Phillips, accompanied Dame Mary to Zambia to celebrate the opening of the optometry training centre: ‘The first time I visited Zambia this centre was an empty a plot of scrubland, so it is amazing to return just two years later to see our dream become reality.

‘The students are so passionate about the right to sight in their country. The difference this facility and the provincial vision centres will make to the lives of the Zambian people is immeasurable.’

The first 24 students have already been recruited to the optometry teaching centre with 11 beginning their training immediately. Specsavers this week launches a Miles For Sight campaign in stores throughout the UK to raise enough money to fund the additional vision centres needed to make eyecare accessible for all in Zambia.

To donate to VAO via text message, text: EYES99, followed by the figure of how much you want to donate, to 70070.
For example to donate £1 text – EYES991, for £2 text – EYES992.

Donations can also be made via http://www.justgiving.com/company/specsavers/

More information can be found on Specsavers’ site: http://www.specsavers.co.uk/news-and-information/vision-aid-overseas/

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Bryony Sanderson
MEC Interaction
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