Vision Aid Overseas in funding drive

The charity is making an open call for donations to ensure that its core services can continue

Roshni checking eyes
Roshni Kanabar

Vision Aid Overseas is calling for pledges and donations to ensure that its core services can continue to operate.

The eye care charity, which facilitates sight-saving projects across Africa, saw existing projects hibernated, future programme funding halted, and the majority of its UK staff furloughed after the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis put a stop to its regular fundraising activities. The cancellation of activities including marathons and other community events, along with postponed new programme partnerships and funding, has now left the charity with a severe fundraising shortfall.

Aside from the furlough scheme, Vision Aid Overseas is unable to receive any of the £750 million in support that is available for charities from the UK Government as it is not on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis.

At the same time, international development charities across the board have seen a decrease in income as those in a position to give instead show their support for local causes and the NHS.

The charity has reduced its UK costs by more than £150,000 after cutting its fundraising and programme support budgets and reducing to a skeleton staff. However, further support is required.

Now it is seeking pledges that will allow it to keep its core services, including existing projects in Ghana, Zambia, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, operating.

The charity’s CEO, Nicola Chevis, said: “Whatever the future looks like as countries emerge from this crisis, our staff and health workers in Africa are ready, dedicated, and equipped to resume their work in the heart of communities. However, they can only do so with guaranteed support from the UK.

“Business supporters are coping with their own financial struggles, leading them to delay their gifts. Knowing our wonderful supporters as we do, we have great hope that they will return in the future – but the emergency is now.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that we are able to continue our life changing projects in Africa and want to thank everyone who has already responded so generously. So many people have shown us that they really care about people needing eye care and glasses in Africa. Thank you.

“African countries are having the same discussions and dilemmas as we are having here in the UK, except with much more fragile health systems and reduced capacity of health workers.

“People may now be unable to do their jobs for lack of an eye test and pair of glasses. When schools reopen, children’s education may be impacted upon due to the lack of glasses. We are planning to be ready to provide eye health services to these communities just as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The World Health Organization has said that restoring sight is one of the most cost-effective health interventions to reduce poverty. Vision Aid Overseas is currently one of the only organisations concentrating on correcting refractive error in developing countries.

Whilst its activities are suspended, the charity is supporting its staff in Africa through continuing to pay salaries and facilitating home-working where possible.

Roshni with children
Roshni Kanabar
The AOP’s Roshni Kanabar, on assignment in Ghana with Vision Aid Overseas

Optometrist and clinical and regulatory adviser at the AOP, Roshni Kanabar, is a member of Vision Aid Overseas and spent time volunteering in Ghana with the charity in 2016. During her trip she worked to train optometry students at the University of Cape Coast, and accompanied them to local villages to help provide eye care services.

She says: "The health workers in these countries are ready to resume work, but they need guaranteed support from the UK to do so. The AOP is supporting Vision Aid Overseas, and we think that it would be really sad to see this charity not survive due to the pandemic.

"Many of us have been on outreach assignments with Vision Aid Overseas, and have seen first-hand the amazing work that they do. And I think that it's really important and up to us to help this charity during this difficult time, to help keep it afloat."

Ms Chevis is aware that the optical sector is currently facing a difficult time itself, with many employees furloughed and locums struggling to establish when they’ll be able to pick up regular work again.

She told OT: “I sincerely hope that those working in the eye care sector, in the UK and in all other countries, can resume their much needed work safely and as part of the health system, which has coped incredibly with the impact of COVID-19, so that eye care can be accessed by everyone that needs it.”