My Week: Karen Sparrow helps to bring vision to Botswana

The programme manager for Botswana at Vision Aid Overseas recounts her week

Karen Sparrow
Karen Sparrow

MONDAY - I'm head of professional development at the Association of Optometrists, but I also volunteer for Vision Aid Overseas for roughly one day a week. Today, I attend the monthly operations meeting at the charity's HQ in Crawley, West Sussex. VAO runs training and development programmes in eight African countries, so these meetings help us to keep track of progress. The trip to Crawley also gives me the chance to pick up the optometry equipment I need for my trip to Botswana tomorrow. We're setting up our first vision centre there as part of a blindness prevention programme.

TUESDAY - I arrive at work with a packed suitcase and later head to Heathrow, where I meet the team of VAO volunteers, optometrists and dispensing opticians - we're easily identifiable in our bright green T-shirts. After a night flight to Johannesburg, we make the short hop to Botswana's capital, Gaborone.

WEDNESDAY - The first task of the day is to register our team of optometrists with the Botswana Health Professions Council. We then take a four-hour road trip to Sekgoma Memorial Hospital, Serowe, where we'll be based for two weeks helping to set up the vision centre. The roads are good and it's a surprisingly easy journey.

THURSDAY - We finally track down the shipment containing the equipment. We unpack the glazing machines and arrange with the hospital's maintenance manager to fit the frame display racks to the walls. Then it's time to start training local hospital staff to work in the centre. It doesn't take long for word to spread - the first patient arrives from the hospital's eye clinic ready to choose spectacles.

FRIDAY - I head back to Gaborone for a meeting with the Ministry of Health to discuss the eye health issues affecting the country. Things are going well: by the end of the two-week assignment, we'll have trained two technicians and fitted out a new vision centre and dispensary. A local optometrist will soon be transferred to Serowe and the VAO team will return in a month's time to check progress.

Vision Aid Overseas provides access to eye care in developing countries

Karen Sparrow is programme manager for Botswana at Vision Aid Overseas

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