October 2014, Botshabelo, Free State

altWhen 12-year-old Lebuajuang Mlizana’s mother heard that an eye clinic was coming to her community in Botshabelo, about 50km east of Bloemfontein in the Free State, she knew she had to take him. Even when she realised the clinic was going to be held among the dust and builder’s rubble of a half-finished church, she made the journey and sat for hours waiting for her son to be seen.

otshabelo is an enormous township, a hangover from the apartheid era, and one of the largest urban areas in South Africa today. But with unemployment reaching a heart-breaking level of around 65%, people who live here don’t have it easy. With little income, each day is a struggle and families sometimes go to bed hungry. It’s hard enough to be a child here without the added challenge of not being able to see properly.

When Lebuajuang was 8 years old, spectacles were prescribed for him but with the rough and tumble of boyhood they are long gone. So he’s been struggling at school, unable to see the board or the teacher, unable to focus on his schoolwork unless he lowers his face to within a few centimetres of his book.

altWith the magic of prescription lenses, he’ll now be able to use his energy to learn rather than wasting it trying to decipher fuzzy images. And with learning, a different world will be open to him.

Bright-faced 8-year-old Thuto Mothae was another patient who benefitted from the eye clinic.  He’s short-sighted too, though not as much as Lebuajuang, but he has the added complication of astigmatism, which results in distorted images forming on the back of the eye. Despite this, he’s done well in class this year, winning four prizes at his school. With his new spectacles, next year should be an even brighter one for Thuto.

Of course, it wasn’t only children who could be helped. Most of the patients were middle-aged – like Smangele Bekane, aged 56. Until now, she saw life through a vague fog. With corrective lenses, she’ll be able to see her children and grandchildren properly; even simple tasks around the house like cooking for her family will be a lot easier.

The free eye clinic at Botshabelo was run in October by Reach4Sight
and sponsored 80% by the Anglican Catholic Church MDSA and 20% by Reach4Sight.  In all, 230 members of the community benefitted from the clinic and 127 patients received free spectacles.

‘Many middle-aged or elderly people needed reading glasses,’ says Reach4Sight optometrist Keith Reid, ‘and we referred those with dense cataracts to the nearest hospital to get onto the waiting list for an operation that can restore their sight. We also referred a child with ulcerated corneas for urgent treatment, without which his vision could become affected.’

Thanks are due to Bishop Alan Kenyon-Hoare, Father Johannes Lesenyeho and Father Jeffrey Tsoeli of the Anglican Catholic Church MDSA, and to the trio of youngsters who so ably assisted with interpreting and patient management – Mokhoasi Mafokama, Mpho Valashiya and Ditlhare Matsau. And thank you to Rose and the church ladies for their hard work in the background.


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