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 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.

What You Need to Know About the Aga Khan Development Network

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is one of the most important philanthropic organizations currently working in Afghanistan. To date, with the support of various donors and partners, AKDN has channeled nearly $750 million into Afghanistan’s rebuilding process.

AKDNlogo

Read on for a look at some of the diverse areas of activity that have been supported by these vital contributions.

Education

AKDN works to prioritize all levels of education in Afghanistan, from pre-school and early childhood development through post-secondary learning. Some of the many educational initiatives that AKDN has helped implement in the country include the establishment of more than 200 government and community based pre-school centers in remote and rural areas as well as the corresponding establishment of two Teacher Resource Centers to provide support and training to local early childhood educators.

afghanistan education

Additionally, AKDN established an intervention program for the government of Afghanistan to help increase and expand national capacity to deliver, support, and promote quality education. It also provides scholarships to assist students at the post-secondary level in gaining a quality university or college education.

Health

Providing even basic health care for all of Afghanistan’s citizens has been a challenge in recent decades. With health care facilities having been damaged or destroyed by conflict, to say nothing of a doctor-patient ratio of just two doctors for every 10,000 people, it is extremely difficult for many Afghans to get the care they need. AKDN began work to address this problem in 2002, when the organization launched a program dedicated to building a more effective health care delivery system.

This program has taken a four-tiered approach to care delivery: volunteer community health workers are trained to provide health education and minor treatments; Basic Health Centers, typically established in remote or rural locations, offer essential curative care as well as maternal and child care; Comprehensive Health Centers offer diagnostic, treatment, and referral services as well as emergency maternal care; and Referral Hospitals provide secondary care and other specialized services.

Rural Development

The majority of Afghanistan’s citizens still live in rural areas; however, residents of these areas are often left behind by development activities that concentrate on less isolated and more densely populated regions. AKDN works to support and connect these rural communities through a range of different programs and activities.

crops

These efforts include: participatory governance programs, which aim to empower local communities to identify their own needs and create and implement their own development projects; programs on agriculture and natural resources management, which move beyond simply distributing agricultural commodities and instead focus on providing farmers with the tools and education they need for a sustainable livelihood; and initiatives to improve access to finance, so that rural communities and families without basic financial services can save for the future and protect their existing assets.

Humanitarian Assistance

Unfortunately, war and conflict are not the only difficulties that affect Afghanistan; the country is highly prone to multiple natural disasters as well. Earthquakes are a frequent occurrence in Afghanistan’s mountainous northern regions. Additionally, landslides often follow earthquakes, and floods are common in the spring due to heavy rains and melting snow.

AKDN works with Focus Humanitarian Assistance, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 1996, to help provide disaster relief efforts and to assist at-risk communities with preventative measures. Specific initiatives in this area include avalanche preparedness, which trains local villages on avalanche safety and establishes weather monitoring posts to gather data needed to predict the likelihood of avalanches striking; the management of emergency stockpiles, which can currently provide food and relief for over 2,000 families in some of Afghanistan’s highest-risk areas; and the creation of community emergency response teams, which help get relief as quickly as possible to areas hit by disaster without having to wait for mobilization efforts from farther away.

Cultural Development

AKDN takes its role in helping conserve and restore Afghanistan’s cultural heritage very seriously. To date, through its Aga Khan Trust for Culture branch, AKDN has restored and rehabilitated dozens of historic public buildings, public open spaces, pedestrian walkways, houses, and monuments in three Afghan cities, including the famous Babur’s Gardens in Kabul.

cultural development

Another important cultural initiative recently launched by AKDN is the establishment of two schools of classical Afghan music, one in Kabul and one in Herat. These institutions help revitalize Afghanistan’s rich musical tradition, which is currently in danger of disappearing.

Microfinance

As of 2013, it was estimated that only 9 percent of adult Afghans held an account at a formal financial institution. To address this challenge, AKDN was working to establish microcredit programs in Afghanistan as early as 2002.

In 2004, the organization launched First Microfinance Bank. It was the first of its kind under Afghanistan’s then-newly-developed regulatory structure as well as a pioneering force in connecting underserved Afghans with innovative and flexible microfinance products. These, in turn, help drive vital economic development, particularly in rural areas.