A new approach to eye care

At Ras ZeSilas School in Ethiopia, poor hygiene put pupils at risk of eye infections and cost them vital hours at school. But thanks to an Eye Health Club and a brand new waterpoint, students now have the chance of a happier, healthier future.

18 Sep 2014

One tap for 2,500 students – and 71 teachers.

Like many schools that started out with just a few pupils, facilities at 70-year-old Ras ZeSilas Elementary and Junior School had become too scarce to meet everyone's needs.

But the school's response to these circumstances was unique. Unlike other schools in Ethiopia that have standard extra-curricular groups, Ras ZeSilas has a long list of clubs that deal with specific themes. This includes an Eye Health Club, necessitated by the number of students suffering from trachoma and other eye infections – mostly as a result of insufficient water and hygiene facilities.

Tariku, coordinator of the Eye Health Club.
Tariku Tekele, 57, coordinator of the Eye Health Club at Ras ZeSilas Elementary and Junior School.
Photo: WaterAid/Behailu Shiferaw

57-year-old Tariku Tekele is a biology teacher at Ras ZeSilas School. In his spare time he is also a coordinator of the Eye Health Club, which now boasts over 120 volunteer members.

As well as supporting students affected by eye infections, the club also encourages regular handwashing to stop the spread of diseases.

"In this area, the chances of children getting eye infections are high, and when they come here and interact with children who barely have water to wash, the bacteria easily goes from one to the other," he tells us.

Tekalign Sahile, a student at Ras ZeSilas School
Tekalign Sahile is a student at Ras ZeSilas who is a member of the Eye Health Club.
Photo: WaterAid/Behailu Shiferaw

14-year-old Tekalign Sahile has been suffering from poor vision for over two years.

“I have a burning feeling inside my eyes, it’s itchy and gets really red and cloudy. Sometimes it’s as if I am seeing through clouds. I have seen doctors about six or seven times,” he says.

Now Tekalign wants to be an ophthalmologist when he grows up. “I want to be able to help children in my situation both medically and financially,” he explains.

“That's why I signed up to the Eye Health Club. I don’t want other kids to go through what I'm going through.”

Mahlet Tsegaye, 6, washes her face at the new waterpoint at Ras ZeSilas School, Ethiopia.
Six-year-old Mahlet Tsegaye washes her face at the school's new waterpoint.
Photo: WaterAid/Behailu Shiferaw

Thanks to help from WaterAid, Ras ZeSilas School has now installed a new waterpoint with 14 taps. That means one tap for every 178 students, and enough safe water to keep students clean and healthy.

The new waterpoint will stop pupils missing school to collect water, and give them the chance to concentrate in class and fulfil their education.

It also means pupils can wash their hands with safe water after using the toilet, preventing the spread of eye diseases such as trachoma – making the future brighter for everyone.

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