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By the time she was six years old, Treasure Winner Mafau Azemafack’s family had already fled violence three times. Originally from Fontem in Cameroon’s South West region, Treasure Winner, her parents, and three siblings eventually settled on Dschang, in the country’s West region. 

During this time, Treasure Winner began to experience headaches, but moving so often made it difficult to access medical care. “I’ve had eye problems since primary school, which generally led to [a] constant headache,” she says.   

A girl with dark skin covers one eye while sitting in a chair.
Treasure Winner takes a vision test as part of a vision screening at her school.

When her father was able to take her to the hospital for a checkup, she was diagnosed with a refractive error and the doctor prescribed eyeglasses to correct her vision. Unfortunately, Treasure Winner’s glasses eventually broke, and her family did not have the money to purchase a new pair.  

Now 11, Treasure Winner had trouble keeping up with her with her schoolwork without her glasses.

“I used to have a hard time during exams because I could hardly read the question papers,” she said. “Most times when I go home my sister would read through the notes I copied in class to make sure there are no errors.”

The Challenges of Accessing Vision Care

Uncorrected refractive error is the most common cause of vision impairment among children worldwide. Refractive error refers to conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and age-related farsightedness. While prevalent, these conditions can usually be treated with a simple pair of eyeglasses, but many people are unable to obtain them because they lack access to care.

A young girl with dark skin wearing a blue top sits with her face in an autorefractor. A woman with dark skin and bright red hair wearing a black cap, grey and purple vest, and black shirt with white letters on it uses the machine to examine her eyes.
Treasure Winner has her eyes examined during a school vision screening conducted by Helen Keller.

Around the world, 1 in 7 people are living with vision loss because they are unable to access or afford vision care. For people earning a low wage, blindness and vision loss can create a devastating spillover effect, impacting children and family members’ ability to learn, form friendships, earn a living, and remain safe.

In Cameroon, there are few clinics offering eye care services, including in large cities. Even when eye health facilities are available, services are often too expensive for many families. These barriers to care are compounded by ongoing conflict and other crises that, according to UNICEF, have forcibly displaced more than 2.1 million people, including Treasure and her family.

Helping Students See Their Potential

Two years ago, Helen Keller Intl began providing free eye screenings and no-cost prescription glasses to Cameroonian children in partnership with USAID’s Child Blindness Program, the Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Secondary Education, and Acha Eye Hospitals. The first phase of the project screened the vision of more than 20,100 children between the ages of 11 to 15 in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, and distributed free prescription eyeglasses to those who needed them.

With her new glasses, Treasure Winner is better able to keep up in school.

The project has since expanded to two additional districts, including the Dschang district, with funding from The Røros Foundation. Additional funding from USAID along with Alcon and the Henry E. Niles Foundation fund this work in other districts. Helen Keller partnered with Treasure Winner’s school to provide vision screenings for all its students on site. After identifying Treasure Winner’s refractive error, Helen Keller offered her a selection of frames to choose from and provided her with a pair of glasses to correct her vision, for free.

Treasure Winner’s mother, Felicia Ndobegang, was elated when she heard the news. “When she came home and told me that some eye specialists screened her eyes in school and will give her free eyeglasses, I was so happy, I almost collapsed,” she says. “The joy that is in my heart is too much.”

Treasure Winner is excited to have clear vision again, which will allow her to better engage at school. “I am very happy I will have a new pair of glasses because I know I will see well again,” she says.

Help students like Treasure Winner succeed in school with clear vision.