Word of mouth marketing can be a most effective way to get a message across, and that goes for international eye care too. The blind simply will not receive sight-restoring care unless they are informed that quality services exist, and are shown how to access them. In the developing world, getting this message to poor and remote areas is no easy feat.
The key is to get the right message into the hands of the right people, and the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) Diane L. Wood Humanity Fund has made sure that essential eye health information is available to the blind, especially women and girls, in some of the most remote parts of eastern Africa.
In 2011, the BCGEU partnered with Seva Canada, and began providing funding to help bridge the gender gap in Tanzania and get eye care to those who need it most. Their funds have supported Seva’s microfinance program, which educates women in microfinance groups about eye health and creates a word-of mouth advertising network for eye care services. It’s an innovative and low-cost program that partners with existing networks of women who are involved in the many microfinance organizations in low-income countries.
The BCGEU, together with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and dedicated individual donors, have educated hundreds of women to become eye care advocates within their communities, ensuring that life-changing eye care is accessible to all. After receiving free eye health training, these women provide information and counseling about Seva’s services to those who would otherwise never know that care is available to them.
Microfinance members are leading the way for women and girls to move up the socioeconomic ladder in the developing world. Training them to recognize eye problems increases their confidence and their positions within their communities. They are happy to work as volunteers to provide this much-needed service. Their communities benefit because so many blind people are found at virtually no cost. The blind can then receive care, see again, and reach their true potential. More often than not, these patients are women and children who are not easily found through traditional outreach.
Because of the support of BCGEU and its thousands of diverse union members, thousands more of the most marginalized people in Tanzania have been referred for eye care through the microfinance program. The program has been so successful that it has expanded into Ethiopia.
Seva asked Ken Curry of BCGEU a few questions about the Diane L. Wood Humanity Fund and the great work that they do:
Q. Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about BCGEU?
Ken: The BCGEU is one of the most diverse unions in British Columbia. We represent approximately 67,000 men and women in more than 550 bargaining units. Our union can trace its beginnings back to the early 1900s when provincial government employees formed an association to address their working conditions. Since then, the union has organized thousands of workers outside the government service.
Our members include the women and men who protect children, provide financial assistance to the poor, protect the environment and manage our natural resources, care for the mentally ill in institutions, staff provincial correctional facilities, fight forest fires, and provide the government’s technical and clerical services. BCGEU members instruct and provide support and technical services in colleges and institutes. They provide community health care services to seniors and others in their own homes and long-term care facilities, and enable the developmentally disabled to live in group homes. Our members provide financial services in banks and credit unions, and work in hotels, department stores, First Nations governments, theatres and casinos. They plow our highways during the winter.
Q. What is the BCGEU Diane L. Wood Humanity Fund and why was it formed?
Ken: In 1999 delegates to BCGEU’s convention passed a resolution to establish the BCGEU International Solidarity and Humanities Fund. Later, the fund was renamed the BCGEU Diane L. Wood International Solidarity and Humanity Fund in recognition of the international work done by former secretary-treasurer Diane Wood. The fund provides financial support for projects that partner us with unions, community groups and nongovernmental organizations in different parts of the world.
Q: What are the Fund’s objectives?
Ken: The Fund’s objective is to provide concrete support to the work of the BCGEU’s International Solidarity Committee. This committee raises awareness of international solidarity issues among union members, and its goals include promoting social and economic justice, solidarity and the values of trade unionism; supporting fair trade initiatives; supporting public services as a foundation of a democratic society; and promoting the Millennium Development Goals.
Q: How does the BCGEU Diane L. Wood Humanity Fund raise money for its projects?
Ken: BCGEU contributes 20 cents per member per month to the fund to help support a number of projects and partner our organization with different unions, community groups and nongovernmental organizations.
Q: Why do you support Seva’s microfinance work in eastern Africa?
Ken: One of the guiding principles in determining which projects to endorse is work towards supporting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. These include universal education, gender equality, child and maternal health and global partnership, all of which are embodied in Seva’s microfinance work.
The loyal support of the BCGEU has made the continuation and expansion of this innovative microfinance partnership possible. Their support over the years has ensured that essential eye care services are available to some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Thank you to the BCGEU and its union members!