August 02, 2013

A Truly "GREAT" Ethiopian Run

Tony McAleer is an ORBIS volunteer faculty member and a Clinical Specialist Orthoptist at Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin. He participated in the 2012 Great Ethiopian Run with ORBIS.

GER 2012 737
Tony with Donal Brosnahan, fellow VF and ORBIS Ireland Board member at the Great Ethiopian Run
On November 25, 2012, I took part in the Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa, with a group from ORBIS Ireland and 36,000 other athletes of all abilities. How I got there was the culmination of a fabulous week in which I joined the ORBIS Volunteer Faculty for the first time.

I was offered the chance to take part in an ORBIS pediatric ophthalmology hospital-based program (HBP) in Hawassa, Ethiopia alongside Mr. Donal Brosnahan, ophthalmologist and long-time VF with a special interest in Ethiopia. Our team was completed by Mr. Jonathan Lord, Anaesthetist, and Liz Agbor-Tabi, Senior Manager, Clinical Services with ORBIS International in New York.  The focus of the HBP was on strabismus and pediatric cataract. My role involved the identification and assessment of potential surgical cases, and also teaching the local ophthalmologists, ophthalmic nurses and optometry students from the University of Hawassa.

After four long but very enjoyable days in Hawassa we returned to Addis for a teaching session with ophthalmology residents at Menelik II hospital. After, we were joined by the 40 member Great Ethiopian Run team from ORBIS Ireland who had arrived in Addis a few hours earlier and were visiting to learn how their hard earned funds are used. Friday evening saw Ethiopian dancing and a social evening which lasted into the early hours of Saturday, which was a relaxing day, the highlight of which was meeting Haile Gebrselassie at the pre-run pasta party. 

Sunday morning saw us congregate in Meskel Square with the other 36,000 runners, an amazing experience of noise and camaraderie which will remain with me forever.  This sense of fun continued right through the run, with bands playing almost every kilometre, attracting the less serious runners to stop running and start dancing.  Despite being a resolutely non-competitive participant, there was an enormous sense of achievement in completing the run and being a part of such a huge event.

As someone who had never been to this region, never mind Ethiopia, I had many preconceptions of what lay ahead, and approached the trip with both excitement and trepidation.  I can only say that I was hugely encouraged by what I encountered.  I would highly recommend both the run itself as a wonderful event and the weekend in Addis with the ORBIS Ireland gang as a hugely enjoyable experience and I can’t wait for this year’s trip. 

To learn more about ORBIS Ireland and how you could participate in this year's Great Ethiopian Run visit: 


The ORBIS Team
The ORBIS Team at The Great Ethiopian Run


December 08, 2011

The Great Ethiopian Run: Lasting Memories

Blog submitted by Charlotte Coleman-Smith

Charlotte Coleman-Smith is one of the 30,000 people who took part in Africa’s biggest road race –The Great Ethiopian Run, a challenging 10km at 10,000 feet above sea level.  She is part of the ORBIS Ireland team who took on this massive challenge in November. Charlotte shares with us her feelings after the race.

It's now a week since I arrived back from Addis. Last night, I was out with friends who were asking me about the Run. Above the noise of a busy restaurant, I found myself summing up the incredible trip. There were so many different threads to it that I struggled to weave them together into a coherent whole. In fact, each time I’m asked, I seem to come up with a new pattern, which is surely a reflection of the complexity of feeling that comes out of such an experience.

Great Ethiopian Run

First, of course, I tell them that it was brilliant, and one of the best things I’ve done. Then, to explain the hoarseness of my voice, I get sidetracked into discussing the intensity of the schedule and the packed programme we followed from the moment we landed. I might tell them about the traditional meal on the first night; watching the great Haile Gebrselassie dance the night before the Run; the Irish ambassador’s reception up in the hills; the final late night of clubbing in Addis and the two-hour sleep which came before the flight home. I’ll describe the great craic we all had as a group, and in our own little sub-sets (apparently, we were the ‘Yummy Mummies’. I like that).

But most of all, I want to get across to my friends the warmth of the welcome we found in Ethiopia, how worthwhile all of the training and fundraising felt as soon as we were touring the hospital and hearing from those who work in the field about the way the ORBIS money is spent. We were in Ethiopia for a very brief time, yet it was long enough to get a sense that this is an incredibly varied country, which is so much more than the sum of all the news stories of the past few decades.

Great Ethiopian Run 2

There’s incredible poverty and hardship – we saw this on every roadside, and particularly on the outskirts of Addis Ababa - but also a growing middle class, an economy that’s getting ever stronger, and a confidence and pride that shines out. This was very clear to me during the Run, as groups of friends, families and colleagues came together to celebrate the national sport, and simply to enjoy being who they are.

We, of course, were lucky enough to have a lot of fun while doing our bit for charity. This was, after all, predominantly an Irish group. Perhaps some might take issue with that. But in order to become ambassadors for ORBIS, I reckon it’s better for the participants to come home with a positive feeling about the country and people they are trying to help.

I would love to return and see more; perhaps travel south to the ORBIS projects. But even if I don’t, the trip to Addis Ababa of November 2011 will give me material for stories for a very long time. Perhaps these stories might persuade others to do their bit for ORBIS in years to come – if only so they can beat me at my own game!

November 16, 2011

The Great Ethiopian Run: I’m elated, and terrified.

Blog submitted by Charlotte Coleman-Smith

Charlotte Coleman-Smith is one  of the over 30,000 people who will take to the streets of Addis Ababa to participate in Africa’s biggest road race – a challenging 10km at 10,000 feet above sea level.  She is part of the ORBIS Ireland team taking on this massive challenge at the end of November 2011. Charlotte shares with us her preparations, fears and excitement in anticipation of the race.

After two years of procrastination, I've finally made the decision to join the ORBIS Ireland team on the Great Ethiopian Run. I'm elated, and terrified.
Elated - because it's the trip of a lifetime, a huge personal challenge for me, and a chance to prove that I am more than just a Mum, and all-round domestic goddess. I get to go to a fascinating country - one that's been on my list for many years and I can't wait.
More importantly, by supporting ORBIS, I'm turning my mind towards people who are so much less fortunate than myself. The pictures I've seen of little boys suffering from trachoma in quiet agony, red-eyed and despairing, contrast so starkly with my three strapping, healthy, happy sons. Their situation throws so many things in perspective. And because the aim of ORBIS in Ethiopia is so simple - to restore sight - it makes my goal crystal clear. This helps hugely with motivation when I am dying of boredom on my fourth lap of the local sports field.
I'm terrified, though, because I'm no athlete, and 10k is twice as far as I'm used to. In 2010 I was in hospital more times than I care to remember, having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. I'm certainly fit to go now, but I'm keeping my expectations low - I'd like simply to finish the course. 
Cakes As I write, late at night, I’m basking in the scent of newly baked brownies and fresh flowers. Every chair we own stands to attention against any available wallspace, in anticipation of a crowd of mums (and possibly one dad) I’ve invited over tomorrow morning. The dishwasher is labouring over its load of sticky spoons and cake beaters.

The time has nearly come for my fundraising coffee morning.

‘Nice life you have’, shrugged my husband earlier as he eyed the cakes and scones. ‘Coffee mornings, trips to Ethiopia ...’ I remind him that after I’d cooked and cleared up the family meal, I did 5k on the treadmill in the gym, returned to the kitchen and incorporated my own body weight in sugar and dark chocolate into 46 brownies. It’s not easy being an elite athlete.

I’m new to the area, so I’m not sure how it will all go. I’m hoping that the mix of caffeine and chocolate will entice my new friends to be generous to the cause. Who knows, I might well recruit some victims for next year’s run.

In just one week we’ll be on the plane to Addis. What a thought. If I go to the gym every day, I wonder if that’s long enough to work off a plate of brownies?

Charlotte Coleman-Smith

December 17, 2008

ORBIS Ireland Supporters Run 10km at 10,000 feet

When I joined ORBIS Ireland as development manager in October of this year, my first project was to organize and accompany twenty-three ORBIS Ireland board members and supporters to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to take part in the Great Ethiopian Run on November 23, 2008.

The twenty-three runners came from various walks of life; a number of them are ORBIS Ireland board members or their friends, and some supporters heard about the run through an advertising campaign. The participants all had one thing in common–-a desire to support ORBIS Ireland’s commitment to eliminate blinding trachoma in the Gamo Gofa, Konso and Derashe regions of Ethiopia by the end of 2012.

Each participant was asked to raise €3500 for the projects in Ethiopia. Over many months prior to the trip they all rose to the challenge and currently ORBIS Ireland looks to raise more than €50,000 from the campaign. This amazing figure was achieved through individual donations and creative fundraising events such as bag packing in supermarkets, a curry night, a sausage sizzle, a race night, a comedy night…I could go on. All in all every single person put forth a huge effort into raising significant funds, proving their dedication and passion for ORBIS.

The 10km road race - at 10,000 feet above sea level - is known as the largest mass participation sports event in Africa,with over 30,000 people taking part,including world renowned athletes Haile Gebrselassie,Richard Nerurkar,Sweden’s 2004 Olympic Heptathlon champion Carolina Kluft and the United Kingdom’s 5000m specialist Mo Farah.

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November 20, 2008

We really made it! The third ORBIS–Bupa Moonwalkers event in Hong Kong

Midnight on Saturday November 15, 2008, saw the kick off of the third ORBIS-Bupa's hugely successful annual Moonwalkers event. It was an unforgettable night for all participants, volunteers and Hong Kong staff. We spent almost a year preparing for the event and are pleased that it was such a great success. Around 8,500 participants joined Moonwalkers this year, raising over HK$5.8 million for our sight-saving work.

Moonwalkers gather at midnight to walk 20km in support of ORBIS

Moonwalkers participants are required to walk 20km at night. This year, they started walking at midnight in Mong Kok and took almost six hours to reach the finish line at Sai Kung Pier in eastern Hong Kong.

HeroImageContest Participants arrived at the starting point at around 10pm. Around 500 participants dressed up as their favorite superheroes, having enrolled in the “Hero Image Contest.”  It brought much happiness to everyone involved on the 20-km journey. The opening was like a carnival and people were busy taking photos, doing warm-up exercises, and cheering for each other. The blindfold session at Kowloon City was another highlight of the event. Participants were requested to be blindfold and walk hand-in-hand for approximately 10 minutes. The ultimate idea was to give everyone a taste of just how difficult – and sometimes dangerous – life can be for the blind. Many people said they felt very scared when walking blindfolded and it helped them understand more about the life of a blind person.

Moonwalkers put on their blindfolds to experience the difficulties of being blind

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October 28, 2008

Run For Sight: Toronto Half Marathon Journal

Last Sunday, after weeks of hard training, the ORBIS Run For Sight team completed the Toronto Half Marathon. Below, I chronicle our experiences on race day, October 19, 2008.

5:30AM: The alarms start going off signaling that the day the ORBIS Run for Sight team has been anticipating for months is finally here. As the team steps out into the crisp 0°C air in our ORBIS running T-Shirts we reflect on our long journey to Toronto:

It all started one day when two ORBIS staff members discovered that ORBIS Canada was a beneficiary of the Toronto Marathon. After some convincing, they were able to create a list of names of potential runners. Little did those of us who signed up know how much this day would change us. We hired a running coach and started training in July. Barely able to run one mile without collapsing, nine of us jogged up and down Manhattan's west side highway every Monday and Wednesday after work. Our colleagues became used to seeing us in our shorts and sneakers, complaining about aches and pains, and talking incessantly about our training. We even lost three of our teammates along the way due to injuries, but the rest of us persevered. We were determined, despite being slightly skeptical, that we would run 13.1 miles on October 19th.

ORBIS Runners with banner 
The ORBIS Run for Sight team at a rest stop in Niagara Falls

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October 09, 2008

World Sight Day 2008: Eyes on the Future

Today is World Sight Day, held on the second Thursday of October since 1999. World Sight Day is included on the official World Health Organization calendar and coordinated by the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) under the VISION 2020 Global Initiative, which ORBIS helped to launch.

This year's theme is the ageing eye and vision impairment in older people. An estimated 80% of the world’s 45 million blind people are over the age of 50.  Elderly individuals are the most reluctant to travel to hospitals and agree to examinations and surgeries resulting in delayed medical care, yet timely intervention can delay or reverse the effects of age-related blinding conditions.  To learn more about this year’s World Sight Day theme visit

September 11, 2008

We Need Your Vote!


Nyan and Lehka Pendyala's "Kids for Sight" project to raise money for a pediatric eye care center in India made it to the Top 25 in the American Express Members Project. Now we need your vote so that the project ends up in the Top 5. Those in the Top 5 win anywhere from $100,000 to $1.5 million!

We only need your vote, not your donation. The cash prize comes from American Express.

Voting right now is limited to those with an American Express card. However, anybody can publicize the competition and get out the vote. Please send an e-mail or a widget, which you can find at the bottom of the kids' page, to everyone you know and urge them to vote for Kids for Sight. Please post on your Facebook and Myspace pages, and any other social networking sites you belong to.

Here's the link:

July 11, 2008

Day 3: 2nd Annual East African ORBIS VISION 2020 Workshop

The final day of the VISION 2020 conference was much more clinically focused than the first two days. The participants and trainees from the Flying Eye Hospital program joined the conference today, making the majority of the audience ophthalmologists.

Lecture topics included prevention of glaucoma blindness and pediatric ophthalmology units. One of ORBIS’s volunteer faculty, Dr. Manish Dave, spoke about the advantages of using Small Incision Cataract Surgery (SICS) rather than Extra Capsular Cataract Excision (ECCE). SICS is a less invasive technique, and is quickly becoming the preferred method of removing cataracts. Dr. Dave showed several videos of the technique, although I had some trouble watching them without getting queasy!

The day ended with a wrap-up of the action points from the conference. The VISION 2020 coordinators from each country were given a good percentage of the follow-up work, but everyone walked away with a task to do, and a role to play, in improving eye care in East Africa.

It was an incredible experience to meet so many influential policy makers and ophthalmologists from all over East Africa, and I am very glad to have been able to be a part of it.


July 10, 2008

Day 2: 2nd Annual East African ORBIS VISION 2020 Workshop

The second day of the ORBIS VISION 2020 conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was a success. Today, the discussion focused on public health initiatives, covering topics from equipment procurement to community mobilization. It was a chance for some of the otherwise clinically-minded ophthalmologists in the room to get a broader perspective about eye care issues.

We started out with a discussion of Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) surveys, how they work, and whether they are useful for East Africa. I learned that RAAB surveys give you a quick overview of the burden of a particular eye disease and can be used to help with district-level planning.

Another interesting talk was given by Dr. Wondu Alemayehu, country director for ORBIS Ethiopia. He spoke about the need for government advocacy for eye health. Governments often do not see prevention of blindness as a top health priority, especially when they are facing a huge burden of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, along with a limited budget. We discussed ways of convincing governments to understand the importance of eye care. One way is to present blindness as an economic burden. For every blind person, there is a person who has to stay home from work or school to care for this person, which means neither the blind person nor the caretaker are participating in the growth of the economy. Another way to get governments to provide support to eye care programs is to package eye care with primary health care programs.

Rebecca Saxton-Fox (second from right) poses with VISION 2020 workshop participants.

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