January 24, 2020
Why did you enroll in this course (motivation, prior interests)?
I enrolled in the Global Social Impact Fellowship program after hearing about it through my advisor. Originally, I was interested in learning about the separate projects Lehigh students were participating in, as I am interested in social work abroad. Furthermore, being an International Relations major has given me an appreciation for the connections between countries, cultures, and citizens; which is why I was excited to learn about an opportunity on campus that incorporates the three. Upon researching the different projects, I was skeptical to apply, as all of the projects were in different areas of study than what I was used to. Yet, ultimately, I was inspired to venture outside of my comfort zone and pursue passion instead of comfortability. I chose to apply to the Diagnosing Autism in Africa project, as I have had around five years of experience either tutoring or volunteering children within the classroom setting. I have had first-hand experience regarding the importance of incorporating and caring for students with disabilities in schools. Studying the situation within Sierra Leone encouraged me to apply as I felt I could contribute my efforts towards a long-lasting cause.
How do you envision this course making you a better student?
I envision this course making me a better student in multiple ways. It has already pushed me out of my comfort zone and has made me step into a role I am unfamiliar with. Furthermore, I believe taking this course will allow me to receive a more complex understanding of how to tackle systematic problems, a skill that is not often taught within classes. I also expect to grow as a speaker, as I will have to be able to present and articulate my ideas clearly during presentations. I hope to also grow as a listener. I believe this course will help with that by placing me in a situation where I have to listen closely and really understand my teammates in order to progress with our project. This skill will be useful to me when conducting interviews within Sierra Leone.
The World Health Organization estimates that over one billion people who need eyeglasses do not have access to them. The vast majority of these people live in developing countries like Kenya where there is barely one optometrist per one million people. Given the high poverty levels, access to eyeglasses is almost nonexistent. Lack of proper eyeglasses severely impacts people and their livelihoods by decreasing their productivity at work, limiting or eliminating new opportunities, affecting their quality of life, deteriorating their general health and possibly leading to (preventable) blindness. What solution do you propose to address this problem?
In order to begin to combat the issue, I propose to introduce non-profits or NGOs to educate citizens on failing eyesight, to provide local clinics with supplies, materials, and trained optometrists to begin to prescribe and distribute glasses, and to stress the importance of wearing eyeglasses in order to reduce the social stigma surrounding it. It is necessary to begin with education on the issue, as many people are not aware that a problem even exists. Additionally, the people who are aware of an issue may not realize the severity of the problem due to a lack of knowledge. Often times, individuals will neglect vision problems until the condition is serious enough to need corrective surgery. If civil society, like local NGOs or non-profits, were to begin to illustrate the severity of the issue and emphasize the importance of getting one’s vision tested, individuals who otherwise thought blurry vision was normal may be inclined to visit an eye center. Although funding will not solve the systemic issue found within many countries, it is imperative to have enough funds to begin to address the problem at its root. Especially since the leading cause of many people failing to receive care is poverty and lack of access, to either travel to clinics or the cost of diagnosis and treatment. It will allow for individuals who are in dire need of glasses to receive care before their condition worsens. It is especially important to provide care as often as possible, as it will not only lead to the prevention of serious problems, but it will promote eye care early on. After receiving glasses and experiencing improved vision, people will be more inclined to continue visiting optometrists as time goes on. It is then important to have medical professionals who can train local workers at hospitals or clinics. Training local citizens will decrease dependency on outside help and will allow for progress within the country to continue. Distribution of eye wear will also begin to normalize care for one’s vision. Perhaps one of the most important steps in addressing the problem is reducing the social stigma around eye care and bringing about awareness. In India, women are reluctant to wear glasses for fear no one will want to marry them. Furthermore, in countries where only a few individuals have glasses, people who have just begun to wear glasses may feel uncomfortable or alienated. It is important to continue education regarding the importance of eye care as it will help address these stigmas. Bringing about continued awareness will also attract the attention of civil society. If we continue to raise awareness about the problem, NGOs and non-profits will be more inclined to help address this issue. Taking these steps is important as it will allow for productivity and the standard of living to rise within these countries.