Reading Glasses Reach Refugees Despite Carjacking Attempt!

Major news from eastern Chad! Our shipment of 1,750 pairs of reading glasses has reached Bredjing Refugee Camp! This despite an attempted carjacking on May 26 en route from Hadjer Hadid to Abeche, Chad, which our partner CORD's drivers narrowly escaped. With shots fired at point blank range, it is fair to say that the brave aid workers have risked their lives in delivering the glasses to the refugees. We are tremendously thankful that they were not harmed, and inspired by the incredible photos below of the glasses being distributed.

We have a lot to say about this shipment and many donors to thank, but we'll begin with the photos (courtesy Anne Goddard, CORD), which really tell the story.

Darfuri woman has her vision tested for reading glasses

A Darfuri woman has her vision tested by teacher Mahamat Nourein to find the right power of reading glasses. She is enrolled in a literacy class in Bredjing Refugee Camp – can you imagine what a difference glasses will make? Note the color coordination between the glasses and her clothes.

Darfur refugees in Bredjing Refugee Camp receive reading glasses

A group with new reading glasses in Bredjing Refugee Camp. Note the books in their hands. By providing books and reading glasses to the same people, we are enhancing the value of each. How many lives in this photo have just taken a giant step forward, even if they are still in the refugee camp? The school and children in the background remind us of the lost educational opportunities for adults who need, but don't have reading glasses.

Darfuri men trying new reading glasses in Chad

Senior men from the community with their new glasses – the most colorful of the lot! Intense reading in the background. (Incidentally, the stickers on some of the lenses are only temporary to ensure that the powers are marked and not lost in transit.)

Darfur refugees with new reading glasses in Bredjing Refugee Camp

Another group shot showing glasses being "broken in" by reading!

Reading glasses and near vision testing materials in Bredjing Refugee Camp

A small selection of the 1,750 pairs of reading glasses, with literacy material used for testing, and special multi-lingual near vision test cards created by Book Wish (English, Arabic, French, and symbols).

In all these photos, you are seeing less than 10% of the 500 glasses that will be distributed in Bredjing. 500 more will go to each of the Treguine and Gaga Refugee Camps, and the remaining 250 to nearby Chadian villages affected by the massive influx of refugees from Darfur. We think it is amazing to see these happy faces, the books in hand, and all the hope this means for the refugees, but the total impact will be much, much larger once all the glasses are distributed.

Our partner CORD's Education Program Manager, Anne Goddard, described the scene that unfolded when the glasses arrived:

"It was an amazing atmosphere. Once people realized the difference the glasses made to their sight, they were thrilled. For many in our literacy program, this will transform their ability to progress – it has given everyone involved a real and lasting boost."

Note how Anne said "once people realized." Many had never encountered glasses before, they are a new technology.

Reading glasses are even more of a necessity for the Darfuris than for us in the developed world. Those of us who need glasses are probably already literate, but they cannot become literate without the glasses.

This incredible story now unfolding has only been possible because of the generosity of our sponsors and individual donors. These glasses are not from a dollar store, they are high-quality readers that any of us would happily wear. Optical companies in the U.S. and U.K. that contributed: Sight Station, Smart Eyes, Hilco, Peepers Reading Glasses, For Eyes Optical, Davis Vision, ClearVision Optical, and Equation, LLC. Donor organizations: Northern Virginia Optometric Society, Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center of Northern Virginia, and Partners in Restoring Vision and Improving Lives. We are grateful for the support of optometrists who donated from their stocks, such as Dr. Walter Drill and Birmingham Vision Care, and to the American Optometric Association for helping us reach the optometric community with free advertising in their newsletter.

Individuals also contributed by sending us their spare reading glasses or donating cash to help cover shipping costs, which were significantly discounted by Air France. If you have an extra pair of reading glasses you would like to donate, please do not send it right now. Instead, please subscribe to our email mailing list, so we can notify you the next time we need glasses. Right now, we have met the needs we know about, but we suspect that needs in these or other refugee camps or villages are actually greater, and will want to meet them once the proper logistics and funding are in place.

In the first two photos, you can see that the readers all have cases, which is very important to protect them from the harsh desert environment. We are grateful to Astucci, a manufacturer of designer eyeglass cases, for sending us an ample supply to ensure that every pair of glasses is protected.

Not visible in the photos is another means of extending the longevity of the glasses, repair kits. The Northern Virginia Optometric Society included small screwdriver/screw kits with their nearly 400 glasses (and eye charts). The practical value of these kits is huge when you consider how difficult it would otherwise be to obtain replacement screws locally, and how devastating the loss of a pair of glasses could be to someone who cannot replace them.

The Northern Virginia Optometric Society's donation is also notable for its inclusion of unusually high magnifications and very sturdy frames, which will be greatly appreciated in the camps. We would like to thank Drs. Finney, Jalota, Giles, Sparrenberger, Allen, Unwalla, May, Hettler, Caplan, Meccariello, Bloom, Hoang-Braley, Zelman, Dresely, and Melton, plus, especially, Dr. Joedicke and her family, for organizing such an important contribution to this effort.

As the distribution of the reading glasses continues, we hope to bring you more photos and stories of the impact they are having. 1,750 fragile lives will soon be given new opportunities and new hope.