This past February, students and teachers at a rural school in Cambodia experienced firsthand how the support of Seva donors could change their lives forever.

Students who attend this school come from impoverished homes. These children are not able to attend regular public school because their families cannot afford the fees to purchase school uniforms. The cost to attend this special school is covered through grants and donations. Instead of working their childhoods away in the fields, these children are given the greatest gift they can imagine — an education.

At this school was an eleven-year-old girl named Rattana. Her parents divorced and separately moved to Thailand to work as unskilled laborers. Because wages for unskilled labor are so low, neither one is able to send money home. Rattana and her four siblings now live with their grandparents, who struggle to make ends meet.

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Rattana with her new pink glasses ©Julie Nestingen

When Rattana was younger, she had an accident that injured one of her eyes. The accident left her with poor vision, strabismus, known more commonly as cross-eye, and low self-esteem. Her eyes looked different than the other children’s and she was relentlessly teased. She was unable to play sports at school because she lacked the necessary hand-eye coordination and depth perception. Reading was challenging and she struggled in class because she couldn’t see the blackboard.

Just by chance, a longtime Seva donor, Marissa and her husband were at Rattana’s school teaching English. Having had strabismus as a child, Marissa knew it could be fixed by surgery, so she contacted the Seva team who arranged for Rattana to get the eye care she needed at one of Seva’s nearby partner hospitals.

After the surgery, Marissa realized that there might be other children at Rattana’s school with eye problems.

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Rattana and some of her classmates with new glasses ©Julie Nestingen

"The ah-ha moment came when we noticed, in looking out over the masses of faces in our classrooms, that there was but one pair of glasses in the entire school (in addition to the ones Rattana received after her surgery) and those belonged to a student whose father was one of the teachers at the school," said Marissa. "We realized that there were likely many students at the school who could not even see the new white boards."

Again, Marissa contacted Seva and arranged for the Seva Cambodia outreach team to visit the school. Through the school-screening program supported by Seva donors, all 350 students and staff received eye exams. Seventeen children and four teachers were diagnosed with visual impairment.

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Some of Rattana's classmates getting screened for glasses ©Julie Nestingen

Two days later, prescriptions filled, the students and teachers proudly put on their beautiful new glasses — some of them putting on glasses for the first time in their lives.

"When we were leaving the school after the eye exams and Rattana was wearing her new pretty pink glasses, she took my hand and beamed up at me and said ‘Thank you!’’ shared Marissa. "Rattana knew her life had changed!"

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Rattana and friends ©Julie Nestingen

Read the full Fall 2016 Eye Contact Newsletter.

Sight Stories and News