Salome grew up picking fruit and berries with her friends in the bushes near their village in Uasin Gishu County, Kenya.
As they picked berries they would laugh and sing songs, and on their way home they would compare their handfuls of the fruit as they snacked on their bounty. But when they entered their preteen years, Salome found herself comparing her cuts and bruises to her friends’, rather than berries.
“I would leave the bushes with scratches on my arms and legs,” she says. “I was bumping into branches with thorns that I couldn’t see.”
Salome was just 12 years old when her mother passed away. She moved in with her older brother who works as a casual labourer.
“My brother is very good to me, he keeps me safe and healthy, but he couldn’t find time to take me to a hospital for my eyes,” she says.
Salome had previously received eye drops but they didn’t remedy her condition. “The eye drops would help for a minute or two, but then I would go back to squinting to see things.”
At school, Salome’s performance steadily declined. “Salome was very withdrawn. She was always in the bottom five of the class. I even caught her copying her friends’ work,” says Mr. Kimeli, the school’s deputy headteacher. “I thought it was because of the loss she had suffered, but that turned out to only be half true.”
Last year, the teacher learned how to screen students for eye conditions through Operation Eyesight’s School Eye Health Program, supported by the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Child Blindness Program. “There had been no vision screenings for the students prior to this program,” he says. “Children like Salome had struggled for a long time.”
After getting an eye screening at school, Salome and two other students were referred to Huruma Eye Unit for further assessment. Operation Eyesight provided transportation for the three students, and Salome received prescription eyeglasses within one week of her eye exam.
“Now I’m comfortable sitting in the middle of the classroom, surrounded by my friends. If I wanted to, I could sit at the back of the class and still be able to see the blackboard!”
Salome and Mr. Kimeli are confident that her school performance will continue to improve as she grows.
“These glasses are changing everything in my life for the better,” she says. “I am focusing on improving my grades so that I can become a doctor and help other kids like me!”
With files from Caroline Ikumu, Program Manager, Kenya
Vision impairment disproportionately affects women and girls, and girls are less likely to be prioritized for eye health care. That’s why our school eye health programs are so important for reaching all children, regardless of gender or family income. Learn more about our commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4: Gender Equality.