Vision First in PNG

World Sight Day is an international event observed annually in October to draw attention to blindness and low vision and to give those affected a voice.

This year, cbm New Zealand took the opportunity to celebrate World Sight Day and promote eye health with the community of Goroka, a town in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Over the last 20 years cbm has been very active in this region, developing quality eye care services for the rural poor. For this special occasion, cbm New Zealand CEO Murray Sheard visited Goroka to celebrate the impact cbm field partners are having and to raise awareness about eye health among the communities.

On this special day, cbm’s team at the Goroka eye clinic and the Inclusive Education Resource Centre organised an event at a large park in the centre of town. The team set up marquees to keep the crowds out of the hot midday sun and to provide free vision assessments and eye health education lessons.

The day started with a convoy of cars decorated with banners, banana leaves and flowers, driving through the town centre, escorted by the local police with their sirens on to show their support. Music blared and everyone danced and celebrated as they entered the park where a crowd of close to 500 people gathered.

Two patients who recently had successful cataract surgery and their vision restored gave speeches. They shared about how their life had changed and thanked the clinic staff and cbm for making this possible, and encouraged people with eye conditions to visit the clinic. Murray Sheard was warmly welcomed by the crowd and gave a speech highlighting cbm’s ongoing commitment to those with disabilities. He also announced that cbm has secured funding for the next two years to continue life-changing work in the Eastern Highlands.

During the rest of the event, cbm’s ophthalmologist Dr Wabulembo took the opportunity to disprove some common misconceptions about eye surgery. False beliefs can spread throughout the community and deter some people from going to the clinic to seek help. He also encouraged people with newborns to visit the clinic for free eye screening and stressed the importance of early intervention for the most positive outcomes for children.

The event finished with a PNG-reggae infused performance from the “Braille Boys”, a four-piece band of students with visual impairment. The members attend Goroka University, where they are supported by the cbm inclusive education resource centre and were a huge hit with the crowd. At the end of their set the crowd chanted for more!

cbm was also invited to an afternoon event at a local primary school which organised a school assembly to celebrate World Sight Day. The inclusive education programme is supported by cbm and is planned to become a model school in the region for including children with disabilities.

Upon arrival, students in traditional Highlands dress greeted cbm and students sang about the importance of inclusion. Local educators and inclusive education supporters gave passionate speeches thanking cbm for ongoing support. Murray Sheard was warmly welcomed and given a tour of the school to meet students and teachers working within cbm’s inclusive education programme.

The long history of cbm’s support and work in the area was really on display throughout the day. cbm has been supporting the Goroka Eye Clinic since 1996 and this history was evident. The CEO of the hospital, local politicians, the school Principal and local health authorities all spoke of the positive impact cbm and its partners have had on inclusive education and eye health in the region.

The Goroka Eye Clinic is known to be one of the best-resourced and highly effective eye services in the whole of PNG. It has top of the line equipment and expert staff, and this is thanks to cbm’s commitment and support. Likewise, a local school is becoming a model for inclusive education where students with visual or hearing impairment are not segregated, but included and valued. cbm is proud to work with them as they receive an education, laying the path for a bright future.