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An Estepona optician talks about helping hundreds of people improve their eye sight during a trip to Uganda
07.11.12 - 10:58 -
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A sight for sore eyes in Uganda
Jane, right, with volunteers at Jinja Outreach Clinic. SUR
She's a 13-year-old orphan who could barely see 10 cm in front of her.
But despite being almost blind she found her way to a team of British eye specialists who travelled to Uganda to help improve the sight of some of the country's poorest people.
Examining her was Estepona optometrist Jane Machin who travelled to the war torn country just last month.
“I wanted to talk to her parents and she told me she was an orphan,” explained Jane, who is originally from Essex and moved to Spain in 1987.
“Her school teacher told her to come and she was all on her own. That was what was so upsetting. She was in tears and so was I. I didn't want to ask too many questions like where she was living? But she was having glasses made so hopefully she will be able to see.”
The Ugandan teenager was just one of the 895 Ugandans to be examined by Jane and five British optometrists during a 17-day-trip to the cities of Gulu and Jinja.
Organised by UK based charity Vision Aid Overseas, the Brits had to raise 1,500 pounds (1,915 euros) each to fly out to the country in order to take part in the charitable trip.
600 glasses
During their visit they dispensed 600 pairs of glasses, referred 80 people for surgical treatment at the local health centre and trained local volunteers to perform eye tests.
The charity, which has worked in Uganda since 1991, opened a Vision Centre in Jinja in 2010 thanks to donations.
Jane, a mum of four, has been a member of Vision Aid Overseas since they started in 1985 and told SUR in English that the East African country was worlds apart from Western countries such as Spain.
She described seeing abandoned schools and churches riddled with bullet holes from the civil war, countless children left orphaned by parents who had died of HIV and AIDS and people living in straw huts.
She even met a former member of the Lord's Resistance Army, now a pastor, who has been given amnesty by the government.
The 54-year-old, who works at Óptica Machin in Estepona, said: “In Jinja province there are two optometrists serving a population of one million people. Here in Spain it's around one for every 8,000 people, to give you an idea of the difference.
“There are people that need eye drops but because the health centres can't afford them, the people just sit there and slowly go blind. And that's what really got to me.”
She said that on some days there were hundreds queuing up to be seen and that after one 12-hour day they had to stop people as “there were just too many”.
Cataracts
“We can't refer people with cataracts until they are completely blind in Uganda. I saw my first children with cataracts, they were around eight years old and we referred about three or four as they were pretty much blind. They were in school and could not see. But then again they did not know any different.”
But Jane was quick to say she did not want to paint a bad picture of the country and that she spent most of the time laughing with the kind people she met.
She said: “It was one of the best things I have ever done in my life and it was very rewarding. There's a huge amount to be done and really you could spend your whole life helping and there would still be more to be done.
“It's one of the most beautiful countries I've ever visited. The people were really amazing, kind and lovely to be with. It was an incredible experience and nice to be able to do a bit to help.”
She added: “Everyone who has come into the opticians has been so supportive and donated money despite the crisis and that's how I managed to go to Uganda, thanks to their support.”

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