New glasses bring refugee child to the head of the class

Jordan, Syria, October 28, 2015

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  • Omar, 11, on the left with his first pair of glasses, which were provided by Mercy Corps and his brother Muhammad, 8. He and his family have been living in the camp for almost two years, after escaping Daraa, Syria. Sumaya Agha for Mercy Corps
    Photo: Omar, 11, on the left with his first pair of glasses, which were provided by Mercy Corps and his brother Muhammad, 8. He and his family have been living in the camp for almost two years, after escaping Daraa, Syria. Sumaya Agha for Mercy Corps

Omar, 11, is used to being at the front of the class, but not for the reasons you might think.

“I used to sit in the first row in class, because my father asked the teacher if I could, because I couldn’t see what was written on the board,” said Omar, a Syrian refugee living in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. “I still couldn’t see everything, so what I couldn’t see I would leave blank.”

This year, Omar is looking forward to starting sixth grade, and sitting somewhere other than the front row. Omar is one of the recipients of prescription glasses provided by a new Mercy Corps project, which will ensure all students in need of glasses in Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps in Jordan are able to properly see in the classroom.

This new project, supported by UNICEF, came about after the Mercy Corps team working with school children with disabilities found they had project savings.

One of the team’s goals is to identify children with disabilities and come up with plans to meet their needs. It quickly became clear to the field staff that many students were having problems seeing the classroom boards and reading. So they chose to apply the leftover funds to eye exams and glasses.

Currently Mercy Corps has performed vision prescreening on 6,000 students, with a goal of providing corrective glasses to all of the students in need by 2017.

Bringing the eye doctor to school


Photo: Sumaya Agha for Mercy Corps

The week before school started, Mercy Corps field officers Baha AbuSwelim and Heba Kilani held follow-up vision tests with students, including Omar and his brother Muhammad. Muhammad’s prescription was not correct, so Mercy Corps will give him another eye exam, and have his glasses redone.

While Muhammad is looking forward to his new glasses, Omar is happily enjoying his clear vision. “At home I couldn’t see from afar. I couldn't see things, like if I was asked to get a book I couldn’t read it ... Now it’s better, I can see everything.”

Running eye exams at the school at Zaatari refugee camp takes some extra planning and equipment.

Because the school has no electricity, Mercy Corps brought in a generator. Holding eye exams at the school is more convenient, said Project Coordinator Tasneem Ayesh. In the past, field staff would refer to students to the hospitals. But hospitals, which are usually overcrowded and located far away, only provide exams and not glasses.

There are other advantages, too. Holding eye exams at the school means the optician and the program staff can collaborate.

“So on the spot, we can decide together what is the best plan for the students from an educational point of view,” Project Manager Hazem Salman said.

Better vision helps Syrian refugee children


Photo: Sumaya Agha for Mercy Corps

By addressing the children’s needs from an educational perspective Mercy Corps is helping to provide the students with the opportunity for a better education.

“For example there are several children with light sensitivity — this is a serious problem for children in school,” Hazem said. “The optician and program staff can go to the classroom and decide together where the child with light sensitivity needs to sit.”

Now Omar, whose favorite thing about school is “learning,” has the tools he needs to improve in English and math.

“I’ll be able to do better in school, because I’ll be able to see what’s on the board, I’ll be able to see from a distance!” Omar said.