Prior to May 2011, none of the 700 students in a primary school on the edge of a slum district in Durban,South Africa, owned a pair of glasses. That all changed when a team of four optometrists and five assistants arrived for a three-week eye clinic. With the cooperation of the school staff and the help of a local church, over 1150 individuals in that community now have improved vision. Team member and Eye Wave founder Miranda Tollenaar tells the story.
“We had asked the principal of the school to have the teachers recommend students who seemed to be having vision
problems. But our very first patient was actually the school janitor. It turned out he needed reading glasses. To our surprise he told us eagerly, ‘Now I can read my Bible again!’
Working with the kids was truly a delight. Patiently they waited in line for their turn. We knew that being able to see better would not only improve their education, it would also help prevent accidents, and in their adult years it could increase their ability to find and keep a job. But at their age, what mattered as much to them was feeling stylish and intellectual. We quickly discovered that a few kids were faking their eye exams so they could get glasses too.
“We sent letters home with the students, and soon they were joined in line by their parents or other friends. Each day there would be a few whose visual improvement was dramatic. One taxi driver’s vision strength went from 20% to 80%. Certainly the streets of Durban are now safer! Another mother thanked us, saying she could now shop on her own without needing her son to go with her to the market.
“While our services were of course free, the people spontaneously began to bring us gifts, primarily food. But more than this, they gave us their enthusiasm and joy. Songs and dancing were a common part of our days together.
“When it was time to leave, it grieved us to see the long line of people we weren’t able to help. But Eye Wave is planning to make this an annual event, and next year we’ll be prepared to include high school students as well. This experience has truly convinced me that big things can start small. With God’s help, impossibilities definitely became possibilities.”
By Diane Woerner