Couldn’t make it to Seva Canada’s Annual General Meeting this year? Not to worry, you can read Executive Director Penny Lyon’s speech right here:
Look for a moment at the faces of all the children above. They are completely adorable, of course, and we are so glad they got the eye care they needed.
Only one child out of 1000 develops a cataract. That’s about 1.4 million kids – most of them in the poorest regions of the world.
As rare as it is, congenital (born with it) or developmental (develop at a young age) cataract is now a leading cause of preventable or curable blindness in kids.
What you may not know about these kids, especially the girls, is that their appearance in the above collage is unlikely, it’s astonishing – in fact, it is nothing short of miraculous.
For young children, particularly those younger than school age, the chance that they will be treated is almost zero.
Because more than likely, the child with cataract is the first one the village has ever seen. They have no idea what it is, no idea it can be treated and no available, trained health expertise nearby.
But let us imagine that there is expertise available and the parents are told their child has a condition that is treatable and must be treated or blindness is inevitable. Let’s also assume that funding is available from donors as generous as you.
We’re good: child identified, expertise available, funding provided – sight restored, right?
Even with identification, expertise and funding a child’s chances of treatment, especially girls, is still far from assured.
There are educational, social, economic and cultural barriers in the way. It is not our place to challenge barriers but it is our job to find a way over, under or through those barriers.
What have we learned?
We have learned that just because our intentions are good and the result we are offering is life-changing and likely lifesaving – that is not nearly enough. The key issue isn’t just finding the child, but getting the family to accept care. Their child doesn’t act or look sick. No one has ever offered the people in this village anything good for free. We are not known and we are not trusted. And when I say we – I’m referring to our local partners. Why would they entrust their precious children to us?
We know that it can take multiple visits by an eye care program to encourage a family to accept assistance – and usually the entire village, including the leader, must be involved.
We’ve learned that a woman can’t travel alone in most countries where we work. To accompany a child to a hospital for treatment the mother, father and all the children must travel.
Even if funding is provided for the travel, food and accommodation – how are lost wages recovered? Who is looking after the fields and the animals? There is no margin for error in the places Seva works. Wages cannot be recovered and animals cannot be replaced.
All of what I have said is true for boys and girls but girls face higher, deeper and wider barriers than boys. While boys and girls develop or are born with cataract at the same rate boys are almost twice as likely to access services as girls. We know that there are gender disparities in treatment for men and women but when we look at the disparity between boys and girls it is even more significant.
So what do we do to make sure these kids, especially girls, get the care they need and deserve?
- We invest heavily and repeatedly in active engagement with community leaders (including women and women’s organizations). We need them to trust us, with their children.
- We invest heavily in community and household support for families who seek help for their children. No one should go hungry getting help for their child.
- We don’t challenge gender inequities, we work around them.
- We don’t rely on a health system. There is no health system.
- When we know there is a child in need of care, we never give up.
Thank you all for your ongoing and generous support. Thank you for making these miracles possible.