World Optometry Week was celebrated in style, with 80 children with compromised vision who are unable to afford eye care, each receiving a free pair of prescription spectacles thanks to the collaborative joint efforts of the Order of St John and Ster-Kinekor.
“This is life changing.!” enthused first time spectacle wearer, Okuhle Mthembu (15) “You have no idea. Now, today, for the first time ever, I can see properly. I just keep wanting to take my spectacles on and off to compare the difference. Seeing everything so clearly is absolutely magnificent!”
Mthembu was one of the 30 children who attended a special film screening and hand over ceremony at Ster Kinekor, Watercrest Mall on Fri 25 March. For most of the children it was their first time outside Pietermaritzburg; first time wearing and owning spectacles; and first time seeing a film on a big screen.
Since 2018, the eye clinic at local government Northdale Hospital has been experiencing a critical backlog with their ability to dispense spectacles – such is the demand for eye care from people unable to afford private options. 80 children in particular have been flagged as needing glasses but remained on the waiting list.
St John’s Eye Clinic in Pietermaritzburg, on hearing about Northdale’s predicament, appealed to Ster-Kinekor’s proactive Vision Mission CSI project requesting their help. Without hesitation, the team from Vision Mission came on board to support St John.
“It was heartbreaking to think that 80 children who should be wearing glasses would be starting the new school year without them,” considered Sanchia Jogessar, optometrist at St John Eye Care Clinic: Pietermaritzburg who retested their eyes and made bespoke spectacles for each one of them, which, thanks to the generosity of Ster-Kinekor, were gifted free to the children.
“Of course, we wanted to get involved. Responding to situations such as these is exactly why our Vision Mission project came into being,” added Geraldine Engelman, head of CSI Transformation and Wellness for Ster-Kinekor.
30 of the 80 children were treated to a free movie at Watercrest Mall in Waterfall, to test drive their new spectacles. They had a sneak preview of the band new family-friendly film, Turning Red, Pixar’s groundbreaking coming-of-age tale about a Chinese-Canadian middle-schooler, ahead of it being released onto the cinema circuit.
Attending the hand-over event were leading community optometry specialists: Ms. Pirindha Govender–Poonsamy from Global Ophthalmic Institute; Ms. Yurisa Naidoo from the professional Board of Optometry and Dispensing Opticians; Prof Percy Mashige from UKZN Optometry and Prof Kovin Naidoo from community eye care specialists, Essilor.
St John, the oldest Non-Profit Organisation in the world, has an Eye Care Clinic in Pietermaritzburg’s Selgro Centre and at 129 KE Masinga Rd / Old Fort Rd in Durban to provide affordable professional eye testing and to dispense budget spectacles.
Understanding that 75% of the world’s vision impairment is avoidable, St John endorses the focus globally which is to encourage people to take an eye test.
Ster-Kinekor’s CSI initiative Vision Mission has sought to bring preventative care and treatment to people who might otherwise not have to access to this critical service. Their #LoveYourEyes’ initiative has enabled healthcare providers to screen more than 358 521 disadvantaged learners, with follow-up optometric testing provided to about 30% of them. Spectacles have been given to 15 827 people.
Vision Mission is supported by Ster-Kinekor’s customers, who are encouraged to add R2.50 or more when they buy tickets to the cinema.
“We are delighted to be able to help,” says Engelman. “Co-opting St John to support Northdale Hospital with their unprecedented demand for eye care, is an elegant solution. We loved meeting the children and seeing their new spectacles which will allow them to better perform at school, improve their quality of life…. And of course enable them to better enjoy movies!” concludes Engelman.
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