Afghans Need Better Eye Care – These 3 Charities Can Help

When weighed against Afghanistan’s many other priorities – like rebuilding critical infrastructure, improving education and literacy, and ensuring adequate nutrition for all citizens, to name just a few – the question of eye care and vision health might not seem to be a particularly pressing issue. And yet, the numbers tell another story.

WHOlogoAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 400,000 Afghans are blind, and an additional 1.5 million have some degree of visual impairment. But what’s truly shocking is the following statistic: WHO estimates that 80 percent of these cases of blindness would be avoidable if proper eye care facilities could be established and maintained.

In this respect, Afghanistan’s story is typical of the state of vision care in many developing nations. With limited facilities and few trained professionals, even conditions that are easily treatable can result in permanent vision damage and eventual blindness.

For example, in Afghanistan, the majority of instances of blindness (60 percent) is caused by cataracts (a clouding of the eye’s natural lens). Cataracts can be corrected by a very simple outpatient procedure. However, at present, Afghanistan only has the capacity to perform about 15,000 cataract surgeries per year. This leaves a backlog of approximately 200,000 cataract patients, many of whom live in rural areas.

Fortunately, a number of charitable organizations have made it a priority to improve the state of vision care in Afghanistan. Read on to learn more about three of them.

  1. The Fred Hollows Foundation

What it is:

FredHollowsFoundationThe Fred Hollows Foundation is an Australia-based, international development organization dedicated to eliminating avoidable blindness. It was founded by Fred Hollows, an ophthalmologist who passed away in 1993, and his wife.

The Fred Hollows Foundation now works in more than 25 different countries, pursuing Fred’s vision of a world in which no one is needlessly blind and everyone has access to quality and affordable eye care. To date, the Foundation has restored sight to more than 2 million people.

What it does in Afghanistan:

The Fred Hollows Foundation has been working in Afghanistan since 2006. At present, the Foundation has two major projects in the country. The first is the University Eye Hospital Project. Conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education, the Kabul Medical University, and the Kabul University Eye Hospital, it is aimed at increasing the number of skilled and trained eye care professionals in Afghanistan and building the public health system’s capacity to address eye health issues.

The second is the Afghanistan School Eye Screening Project. It aims to reduce high rates of childhood blindness in some of Afghanistan’s rural regions through education and awareness-building initiatives about childhood eye disease. In the future, the Fred Hollows Foundation hopes to work with the government of Afghanistan to coordinate, plan, and implement a national plan of action for improving the country’s eye health sector.

  1. CharityVision

What it is:

CharityVisionLogoA US-based non-profit organization, CharityVision’s mission is to restore vision to people in developing nations. Founded in 1986, the organization has provided more than 375,000 charitable surgeries over the years to prevent cases of needless blindness. Today, CharityVision operates worldwide, performing about 36,000 sight-related procedures every year, and working with local networks in more than 25 countries.

What it does in Afghanistan:

In Afghanistan and the other countries in which it operates, CharityVision uses a charitable model that is all about empowering local physicians and health practitioners. The organization partners with local doctors and care professionals, providing them with surgical equipment, supplies, and other resources and support free of charge.

In turn, the physicians provide their talent and time for such procedures as screenings or sight-restoring surgeries at no cost to the patients. This leads to a stronger local medical community and a robust network of health service systems that ensures that all patients in need can receive charitable surgeries free of charge.

  1. The International Assistance Mission (IAM)

What it is:

IAMlogoFounded in 1966 (the organization’s original name was the International Afghan Mission), IAM is one of the longest continually-serving NGOs in Afghanistan. Although IAM’s present focus areas include development, education, and general health initiatives, the majority of its work over the years has concentrated on eye care and vision health (at the request of the Afghan government).

What it does in Afghanistan:

The NOOR program – National Organization for Ophthalmic Rehabilitation – is IAM’s longest-running initiative. It was launched, along with the organization itself, in 1966 in partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health. At present, the NOOR eye care program is the main provider of eye care in the country.

The program operates three referral hospitals: the NOOR Eye Care Training Center in Kabul, the Mazar Ophthalmic Center, and the Kandahar NOOR Eye Hospital. These are key hubs for the provision of affordable vision care. With the additional goal of building Afghanistan’s internal capacity for treating vision problems, NOOR also provides logistical support and financial oversight to two other hospitals, the Ministry of Public Health’s Central Polyclinic in Kabul, and the Ophthalmic Center in Herat.

Spotlight on One of Afghanistan’s Strongest Champions

On September 10, 2017, Afghanistan said goodbye to one of its fiercest and most loyal international champions, Nancy Hatch Dupree, who died in Kabul at the age of 89. The American historian, educator, and writer spent more than half her life working to preserve Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage. Her dedication to showcasing the country’s history and culture on the world stage eventually earned her the nickname of “Grandmother of Afghanistan” from many Afghans.

In celebration and in memory of Dupree’s remarkable legacy and her contributions to Afghanistan, read on for an overview of her incredible life and work.

An unusual upbringing

Nancy Hatch Dupree

Nancy Hatch Dupree | US Embassy Kabul | Flickr

By the time Nancy Hatch Dupree first arrived in Afghanistan in 1962, she had already lived a very unconventional life for a woman of her time and circumstances. Born in 1927 in Cooperstown, New York, Dupree grew up in India in what is now the state of Kerala. Both her parents were closely involved with Indian culture: her father was one of the earliest pioneers of rural development programs, and her mother was a student of Indian theater and dance.

She later attended high school in Mexico, where her father was helping to open UNESCO, and pursued studies in Chinese history at Columbia University—her first experience of living for any length of time in a modern American city. At Columbia, Dupree met her first husband, a member of the US Foreign Service. It was through one of his diplomatic postings that Dupree arrived in Kabul in 1962 and quickly became captivated with the country and its culture.

An impressive body of work

Nancy Hatch Dupree is the author of five books and over 100 articles about Afghanistan, making her one of the world’s most prolific and respected authors on the subject. Her writing on Afghanistan began during her early days in the country. Having visited the Buddhas at Bamiyan (a remarkable historic site destroyed in 2001), she was frustrated at not being able to find detailed information about the monuments. To rectify this, she became determined to write a guidebook herself, and it was in the course of researching her first work that she met Louis Dupree, the leading archaeological authority in Afghanistan. He would later become her second husband and lifelong collaborator.

In the following years, while accompanying Louis Dupree on his work around Afghanistan, Nancy Hatch Dupree continued to write guidebooks, which are today recognized as witty and iconic works capturing a pivotal moment in Afghanistan’s history. One of these books became the inspiration for Homebody/Kabul, an ambitious play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner that has served as the first introduction to Afghan history and culture for many Western theatergoers.

A passion for preservation

Nancy Hatch Dupree

Nancy Hatch Dupree | Estonian Foreign Ministry | Flickr

The communist coup of the late 1970s put an end to the Duprees’ time in Afghanistan; they were deported from the country and spent the following years in exile until Louis Dupree’s death from cancer in 1989. Determined to continue the groundbreaking preservation efforts he had championed, Nancy Hatch Dupree became more committed than ever to conserving Afghanistan’s cultural legacy in the face of destructive civil conflict.

In the 1990s, when war threatened Kabul, she was part of a small group that leapt into action to prevent the looting and destruction of some of the most important artifacts in the National Museum of Afghanistan, including its priceless gold collection. Dupree helped find secret hiding places for these artifacts (including the vault of Afghanistan’s central bank), and continued to travel back and forth to Kabul from outside Afghanistan even during periods of extreme instability. Thanks to these efforts, many important cultural artifacts were saved from being lost forever. They now help provide a vital link between Afghanistan’s past and future.

An enduring legacy

In addition to the work and contributions described above, perhaps the most enduring part of Nancy Hatch Dupree’s legacy is the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU). The world’s largest working archive of material on Afghan history and society, ACKU has a collection of more than 100,000 items that were gathered by Dupree over the course of her many years of working to preserve Afghan culture.

While Dupree initially assembled much of the material while living outside Afghanistan, she was able to return to Kabul with her collection in the early 2000s and make plans for its future. Dupree saw her treasure trove of books, newspapers, magazines, photos, and documents as a vital tool that could assist in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and serve as a resource for understanding the past, in order to prevent future violence and instability. Consequently, one of her most pressing goals was to find a permanent home for the archive. To achieve this goal, she founded the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, which eventually helped create the purpose-built ACKU. Today, the Center stands as a vital hub of ideas and knowledge for Afghan and international scholars alike.

Spotlight on How AFCECO Cares for Afghanistan’s Orphans

In times of war, children are often the ones who end up paying the highest price. Sadly, this tough history lesson is one that Afghanistan is all too familiar with: decades of civil conflict have deprived multiple generations of Afghan children of parents, relatives, and role models, making for a challenging and uncertain future for both the children and the country itself.

Fortunately, over the past 10 to 15 years, more and more groups have stepped into the breach to provide support, care, and education for Afghanistan’s war orphans. One of these organizations is the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO), a Kabul-based, Afghan nonprofit dedicated to helping orphaned refugees and other vulnerable Afghan children. Read on to learn more about AFCECO’s mission, its activities, and what you can do to help.

What is AFCECO?

AFCECO_LogoAFCECO is a nonprofit organization, officially registered since 2008 with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, with a mission to serve some of Afghanistan’s estimated 1.6 million orphans. To fulfil this mission, AFCECO operates orphanages all around the country. However, rather than the cold and institutional environment that the word “orphanage” might suggest, AFCECO homes are inclusive and caring, welcoming children from all regions and walks of life, and teaching equality and respect alongside other practical skills like reading and writing. Ultimately, the goal of AFCECO is to support Afghanistan’s next generation and ensure that these children have the skills and opportunities they need to play an active part in building a brighter future for themselves and their country.

How did AFCECO get started?

For AFCECO’s founding director Andeisha Farid, the question of helping children affected and displaced by war is a very personal one: she herself was born during Afghanistan’s war years and raised in refugee camps, and eventually found escape from her difficult circumstances through education. With a strong belief in the power of children to change the course of their country, Farid founded her first orphanage—or “parwarishga,” which means “foster haven”—in 2004. Her work soon came to the attention of CharityHelp International, an organization that assisted Farid in financing her projects through child sponsorships. Thanks to this support, Farid was able to grow AFCECO to its current status: a collection of nine orphanages around Afghanistan that serve hundreds of children and also provide valuable employment for widows and university students.

What are AFCECO’s values?

As mentioned above, one of AFCECO’s core goals is to help the next generation of Afghan citizens grow into resilient, thoughtful, and productive members of society. To achieve this, AFCECO concentrates on teaching children critical values, including: respect for each other’s differences, including differences of circumstance, ideas, or religion; respect for freedom of thought; listening and tolerance; the importance of justice and democracy; respect for the environment; an appreciation for teamwork and common goals; and a sense of integrity, honesty, and caring.

What programs does AFCECO offer?

Within the framework of its orphanages, AFCECO offers a number of different programs and extracurricular activities to help supplement the basic education that the children receive at local public schools. These include a music program, which sees talented young musicians honing their craft under the instruction of dedicated professionals at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. There’s also an athletics program, which helps improve children’s physical fitness (a top priority for AFCECO) and gives them the chance to learn about teamwork and competition through participation in nationwide sports tournaments. In addition, healthcare clinics ensure the health and well-being of the residents of each orphanage, and an e-coaching program pairs students with online volunteer educational coaches for additional support and tutoring.

What partners does AFCECO work with?

One of the biggest partners that has helped make AFCECO’s work possible is CharityHelp International (CHI), a global organization that harnesses the power of online connectivity to foster, promote, and sustain close, long-term relationships between individual donors all around the world and organizations in emerging nations that are in need of support. This helps provide many charitable organizations with ongoing, sustainable development financing for their activities. For AFCECO, CHI has furnished the organization’s Child Sponsorship Program with much-needed communications technology and development and administrative support. In addition, CHI is helping AFCECO with a new initiative, the Support and Networking Program, which offers vital resources and mentorship to Afghan business and social entrepreneurs.

What can I do to help AFCECO?

One of the most important ways that concerned supporters can help AFCECO’s work and mission is by making a donation to the organization. AFCECO accepts international donations in a number of different areas: through the sustainability fund, which allows donors to become “sustaining sponsors” by contributing to the ongoing, fixed costs of operating an orphanage; through the child sponsorship program, where donors can make regular contributions to support the basic needs of a child living at one of AFCECO’s orphanages; and through one-time donations in any amount which help AFCECO cover a variety of necessary costs and expenditures.