Cambodia: Sokunvortey’s story

Sokunvortey is 15 and studies at a high school in a community a short distance from Phnom Penh. She is a keen student but over the last three years seeing the whiteboard had become more difficult, and she noticed she could not recognize her friends from a distance.

“When I studied at grade 4, I was 12 years old then, I became aware of my eyes having difficulties seeing things clearly. Everything was blurry when I tried to see long distances. I’m not sure why but I kept this secret from my parents and tried very hard to see well. I think maybe I just didn’t want to bother them as they are very busy,” said Sokunvortey.

Sokunvortey lives with her parents and they work long hours.

“I got to know about the eye care services of the Brien Holden Foundation through attending school screening activities which our teacher had announced to all students. I firstly found myself hesitant to join as I was really afraid of having my eyes checked. I think maybe I believed it was only me who had this problem and I needed serious treatment, but now I understand that is not true,” she said.

“After the refractionist checked my eyes, I was told that I had high myopia astigmatism and it was explained that I needed to wear glasses but there was no need for any treatment or surgery. So I breathed a sigh of relief. I feel so much better now. Not only do I not need to worry any more, I can see well and live my life normally again,” Sokunvortey said smiling.

“I am very happy with my glasses. They help me to see everything clearly – especially when travelling anywhere. I can read and look at the teacher and letters on white board very well. Now I know how important glasses are. I would like to suggest to all students to have their eyes tested. Having good vision is the best,” she laughed.

The School Eye Health program currently operating in the communities surrounding Phnom Penh is funded by Optometry Giving Sight.

Building capacity in Cambodia

The project in Cambodia has been designed with sustainable strategies and is delivering eye care in a comprehensive and effective way.

In providing capacity building in eye health screening, training has been conducted for 25 teachers from 15 schools in Phnom Penh as well as for 10 staff members at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) School Health Department. Eye screening programs are developing in three schools. This will enable trained staff to be aware of eye problems and recognise them in students, teachers and staff. They now have the capacity to be involved in screening activities and refer students to appropriate services.

“I am really happy to be invited by the Brien Holden Foundation to attend the training,” said Vice School Director Mr. Srouch in Phnom Penh. “I think the course is really good and it has given me the skills to be aware of basic eye problems, what signs to look for and when a referral is needed, and I now know the appropriate places to refer the students to.”

This activity is in line with the action plan of the National Program for Eye Health/Ministry of Health to prevent blindness from refractive errors and provide low-vision services through routine screening of school children at secondary and high school levels. The model of screening developed with the MoEYS and teachers in this project can be used in other areas of Cambodia to meet the goals of the National Plan for the Prevention of Blindness.

School Vice Director Mr. Srouch also added that, “I now know with school screenings, I have the skills to identify students and teachers alike who have refractive error or other eye problems. They can then be referred and fitted with a correct pair of glasses. It is a social and charitable contribution to the community by the Foundation and their funding partner Optometry Giving Sight.”