Blog Post by: James Harold
James Harold is Development Manager at ORBIS’s Ireland office in Dublin
Upon arriving in Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia, for my first Flying Eye Hospital (FEH) visit, I was immediately struck by the welcoming and friendly nature of the citizens of this vibrant metropolis. Little did I know that the city was but a gateway to the socio-cultural wealth this fascinating country counts amongst its treasures.
Having attended a screening day for patients at Menelik II hospital on Monday 8 October, and witnessed the full might of the FEH in action the following day, we set out early on Wednesday morning for a project visit to Welkite Primary Healthcare Centre and later, Girar Health Post. In excellent company, joined by ORBIS International Board Member, Kevin McAllister, ORBIS EMEA Director, Rebecca Cronin, ORBIS Ethiopia Program Manager, Temesgen Kabeto and FEH Volunteer Faculty member (ophthalmologist), Dr. Rosalind Stevens, the excitement was palpable as we left the crowded streets behind.
Travelling through the vibrant green countryside south of Addis Ababa, dotted with animated towns and villages, we were exposed to both the harsh reality of life in this poverty-stricken nation and the community spirit that transcends this hardship. Our first stop was Welkite Primary Healthcare Centre, about 110km/70m southwest of Addis Ababa. This small health centre was full to the brim with patients eagerly awaiting their turn to be seen by ORBIS-trained eye care workers. During our visit, we witnessed cataract surgery being carried out by local cataract surgeon Dereje Hailu. It was amazing to see this young man carry out life-changing surgery in the most basic of operating theatres. While chatting with patients and their relatives in the waiting room, I began to further appreciate the genuine respect and admiration the locals had for both ORBIS and our organization’s commitment to eliminating avoidable blindness.
Leaving Welkite, we continued south on the rocky road to Girar, a small outpost some 150km/95m southwest of Addis. Our arrival was met with the sort of jubilation one would expect from a state visit and the sleepy village suddenly seemed to roar with excitement as our ORBIS jeep came to a halt. We had arrived just in time. Across the burnt-red, dusty road Demisse Habte was mid-way through a trachoma screening day for local children at Girar Health Post. This small, simple structure was run by an enthusiastic team of local health workers. Popping our heads through the wooden entrance, we were greeted by a sea of curious, shy, and smiling faces. We watched as row after row of local children were screened for trachoma, a highly prevalent and blinding disease for many in this region.
As I sat and watched the road ahead of us turn from dust to stone and finally, back to the familiar tarmac of Addis Ababa, I thought of how my experiences would never leave me. I have seen the phenomenal work carried out on a daily basis by ORBIS-trained eye care workers and the enormous impact their work has on the entire community. I was once again reminded that through providing the vital skills and knowledge needed to eliminate avoidable blindness, ORBIS is not only securing the future of those at immediate risk of blinding diseases, but that of the next generation too.
Photos Courtesy of: ORBIS Ireland