Our Canadian team was excited to host Alice Mwangi, our Kenya country manager, in Calgary this past June. Alice, who was the keynote speaker at our Annual Impact Celebration, has worked with Operation Eyesight for the last eight years – and she has so many incredible stories to share.
Alice is especially passionate about empowering women in the communities she serves, and she took the time to educate us all on some of the many challenges faced by Kenyan women.
During a recent field visit to an eye camp, Alice was presented with gifts of appreciation for the work she and Operation Eyesight have been doing in the community.
“Trying to influence the system to include women in the work we do is the biggest challenge I face in my work,” says Alice. “I’m an advocate for training more women to educate people about eye conditions that are more prevalent in women. It is important to give them opportunities to serve their communities and help other women like them.”
Kenya has a rich and welcoming culture, but some of the cultural biases and traditions can be oppressive. Many communities are still very male-dominated, placing low priority on the health of women and girls. Boys and men are usually the first to receive help, and as a result, there are many girls and women living with curable blindness in Kenya.
In many communities, women have a higher rate of diseases such as cataract and macular degeneration than men. This is because women tend to live longer, so they are more likely to experience age-related eye problems. Also, because of their close daily contact with children, women are more susceptible to bacterial infections such as blinding trachoma.
Sadly, women have limited financial resources to pay for eye care services, and they often lack a means of transportation to access the care they need. Even if they did have access to eye care, women are expected to put the needs of their family first. There is also a lower literacy rate among Kenyan women, which contributes to a lack of information about eye care.
“Through Operation Eyesight’s community eye health model, we bring services closer to people who need them by training community health volunteers to perform door-to-door screenings and refer those who need treatment to a vision centre or partner hospital,” Alice explains. “This approach ensures that women and girls don’t fall through the cracks of the system and helps create awareness about eye health within communities.
“Despite the many challenges, working with Operation Eyesight is an enriching experience and I wouldn’t trade this life-fulfilling role for anything!”