Felicienne Muragijimana was 8 years old when a rock hit her in the eye. Her mother took her to the closest health centre which was in Nyabikenke, Rwanda; a 5km walk away. Felicienne’s experience in that health centre decided her future career: she wanted to help others to get the same excellent eye care she received.
Felicienne trained as an Ophthalmic Clinical Officer (OCO) in Rwanda. An OCO is similar to an optometrist in Canada but can also prescribe drugs and perform minor procedures. Felicienne undertook additional ophthalmology training and worked in a hospital ophthalmology unit for 12 years. As an OCO, she knew that most people could not and would not travel far from their village to receive health care. She also realized that if there had not been access to eye care near her village, she likely would have lost her eye because her mother could not have afforded to travel far for her treatment.
Two years ago, Felicienne decided to create a small Community Eye Centre (CEC) in her own community to ensure access to care. She spoke to a local ophthalmologist and asked how to create such a centre. He told her about Dr. Levi Kandeke, an ophthalmologist and Seva partner in Burundi who had created many eye care centres in rural areas. Unfortunately, the ophthalmologist had no idea how to contact him.
Felicienne was not deterred. She tracked down Levi’s contact information, arranged an appointment with him in Bujumbura, Burundi and used her own money to travel alone by bus for the meeting (3 days round trip). Felicienne convinced Levi to not only open Rwanda’s first Community Eye Centre (CEC) but also to hire her as the OCO and manager.
Today, Maisha Optical is a thriving and profitable eye care centre that provides free treatment for those too poor to pay and also generates a healthy profit from patients who can afford to pay a small fee for consultation, glasses and medicine.
With Seva’s support, Levi and Felicienne are planning to create additional CECs in other underserved areas of Rwanda.
Initiative, leadership, clinical excellence and commitment to serving those in need are exceedingly rare qualities to find in a single individual like Felicienne. When Seva finds them, we support them, all in.