This is a guest post from Zaki Hasan, country director for Room to Read Bangladesh.
On a rainy morning in late September, a boat arrives on the shores of a small sandbar island in rural Bangladesh—filled to the brim with medical supplies, tools and doctors from a hospital in another district, which seems a world away.
Waiting patiently at a school nearby are over 100 girls from our Girls’ Education program, brought to the island from others in the region—each with an appointment to get their vision checked by a doctor for the very first time.
In this underserved part of Bangladesh, lack of access to basic medical facilities can severely hinder girls’ ability to attend school. Preventable or treatable diseases turn into chronic conditions, as most families are unable to afford the cost of transport to facilities in a larger city.
Recognizing the lack of health services as a real barrier to girls’ education in the region, our team decided to convene an “eye camp” at one of the schools we work with, and connected with global health organization ORBIS to find the necessary supplies and personnel.
After hearing that none of the girls in our program had ever received a proper eye exam, ORBIS generously offered to fund the eye camp, and enlisted their partner—Mymensingh Eye Hospital outside of Dhaka, who agreed to handle the technical aspects.
The camp was scheduled to take place on an island called Solosoto Jangalia, but due to heavy rains, the medical team was forced to take shelter on another island along the way for most of the morning.
Luckily, 90 of the girls and their chaperones found themselves caught in the same storm, and waited out the rain on the same island.
Acting quickly, the lead doctor from Mymensingh decided to initiate “part one” of the camp immediately—setting up the equipment on the spot. When the storm let up later in the afternoon, the medical team, girls and Room to Read staff were able to complete their trip to Solosoto Jangalia, where over 100 more eager patients were waiting.
At the end of the day, 207 of our Girls’ Education program scholars had been examined by the medical team. Brand new glasses were provided to 12 girls, and 85 returned home with medicine for existing eye conditions in hand. For the seven girls in the group that will require further treatment, ORBIS has offered to provide the necessary care next month at their Pediatric Eye Care Center in Mymensingh free of charge.
It was a long day for all involved, but for the 207 girls who participated, one more barrier had been removed from the path to a quality education. As I headed home from the eye camp, I continued to reflect on the power of partnerships like this one with ORBIS to amplify the impact of our Girls’ Education program, and how one simple eye exam that day had changed some of the girls’ lives forever.
Learn more about our work in Bangladesh.