Concha Márquez, an optometrist with over 30 years experience, who currently runs General Óptica in Ronda, is travelling to the Congo later this month as part of a solidarity project at the hospital in Boma, and she will be taking 30,000 pairs of glasses and four pieces of equipment with her.
"The spectacles have not only come from the Ronda area but from all over Spain, including the north, other parts of Andalucía and the Canary Islands. One of the machines, which I'm waiting for at the moment, is coming from Tenerife," said Concha, when we spoke to her, and she is delighted at the response there has been to this initiative.
The project is being run by an NGO called Contagia Solidaridad, based in Arriate, which has already carried out similar missions at the Congo hospital, including equipping a maternity unit because of the high mortality rate among women who give birth there. The unit is already in operation and there are plans to expand it.
The group contacted Concha Márquez because visual health is not covered by the hospital and she decided the best way to help would be to offer her professional assistance and to take spectacles with her, including sunglasses for people suffering from albinism, and equipment. She will also be training staff so the service can continue once she comes home.
Her trip is scheduled to begin on 22 August and she is asking for help to finance the logistics. "Initially it was going to cost nearly 4,000 euros but I have managed to get it down to 1,700 euros and am planning to take nine extra suitcases with me. We are trying to find funding," she explained, before adding "I still have a lot of work to do, cleaning and classifying the glasses by graduation before I go".
Her working day often continues until midnight at the moment because of this, even at weekends, so she would be happy to accept help from anyone who wants to help with these preparatory tasks. As well as the estimated cost, she believes there will also be other expenses arising from the trip.
Some readers may recall that Concha is one of the survivors of a tragic traffic accident in India in which four of her companions died (three from Ronda and one from Granada), while they were on a charity trip with the Vicente Ferrer Foundation in 2017. They were taking school materials for children, among other items.
"That happened, and yes, it was terrible, but life has to go on. You have to continue, you can't just give up. There are other missions that need to be carried out. I wasn't planning to go to Boma, but I was contacted and you have to move on, keep going forward, and with enthusiasm," she said.
Her plan is to fly to Kinshasa and then travel to Boma, about 400 kilometres away, which she wants to cover in 12 hours. She is concerned about this final stage of the journey, because it means passing through a conflict zone.
On Friday Ronda council expressed its support, via the councillor for Social Affairs, Cristina Durán, who visited Concha at her place of work. "We want to thank women like Concha for their work," she said, and confirmed that the council and Cruz Roja in Ronda are looking for ways they could help to fund the project.
She explained that members of the public can make a donation to the Cruz Roja bank account in Ronda. The association has said it will pay the 1,700 euros, but is hoping that people will come forward and donate enough to cover at least half of this cost.