16 year old Chhem (Cambodian name meaning ‘respect and admiration’) is a typical teenager, busy at school, loves her friends, and is eager for the weekend when she can explore the buzz of Phnom Penh and the mighty Mekong river.
Last year, Chhem noticed she was having a hard time navigating the busy laneways of her city with motorbikes whizzing dangerously around her.
“I started having eye problems. I noticed that I could not see very well and had pain in my eyes,” she said.
Her eye problems were seriously affecting her education. “I had headaches when trying to see something and read,” she said. “I even felt bad-tempered because of my eyes. I was a lazy student because I could not concentrate on my studying. My study record was not good.”
Fortunately for Chhem, her school is one of ten that are part of a School Eye Health program being funded by Optometry Giving Sight and implemented by the Brien Holden Vision Institute. The 2-year program is providing training for schoolteachers to undertake visual acuity testing and make referrals for eye examinations and glasses where needed. To date close to 12,000 students and teachers have been screened and 1,400 glasses dispensed.
“The glasses really help me concentrate on my studying and participate socially,” said Chhem, following her referral to the Phnom Penh Vision Centre. “Before, even when I went to the market I felt uncomfortable because I could not see. I am very excited…I always wear my new glasses every day. I am very happy and feeling good. Now I can do what I want. I can read as much as I want. I can feel my eyes are healthy.”
A further outcome of the program, which continues until mid 2016, will be to work with the Cambodian Government to develop and launch a national “Guideline to Implement the Policy on School Health” which will benefit schools throughout the country.