I have now been at WIPAHS for about ten days. It is located in Kibaha, a village which is approximately and hour away from Dar es Salaam. It really does not feel like it has only been a week and a half because so much has happened. Every day I wanted to start writing about this place but there just hasn’t been the time. But today has been amazing and it’s really time people get to know what is going on here in Kibaha.
Wipahs is an organization that is focused on education , both Islamic and secular. It caters for a lot of the underprivileged and tries to sponsor and subsidize as many of the students as it can based on both their inability to pay and their academic merit. It is sort of like its own little village. It consists of a secondary girls school, boys school, primary school, college, administration, orphanage, a hospital and a farm from which they grow a lot of the food we eat everyday. It has staff housing and student housing so everyone who works here lives here.
Today was EYE CAMP. The people here at WIPAHS along with other volunteers in Dar es Salaam take part in this every month. It is basically free eye care for anyone who wants and needs it. It is announced to everyone and publicized as much as possible and it occurs in different areas every month. Last month it was in Matwara which is 500 km away from Kibaha but takes 2 days to get to with the road conditions. So, this month it is happening in Kibaha.
The day started off at about 8 am where people registered their names. At first I was put to write down their names and their age. Most people here don’t speak English and I don’t speak Swahili yet. So getting their names seemed pretty simple, I simply asked for “Gina?” “Name?” and then age is miaka but they only knew their age in Swahili. and would reply in Swahili. One of the volunteers wrote me up a list : ( excuse the spelling in case you speak Swahili) Kumi – 10 moja-1 Shirini – 20 mbili-2 Salasini- 30 tatu 3 Arbaini- 40 mne 4 Hamsini- 50 tano- 5 Siteeni- 60 sita – 6 Sabeeni- 70 saba -7 Thamanini- 80 nane- 8 Tisa – 9. I created one column with the 10s and one column for the ones. At first I had someone helping me, they would say their age and I would get it translated. After about 5 minutes she left and so every time someone told me their age I would criss cross and try and figure out their age… (that’s one thing I love about this place, the people who run WIPAHS don’t feel like they need to babysit you – they give you the chance to grow and leave you on your own) – I know, it seems really simple that people just say their name and age but they speak so fast and eat half of their letters…like any other person speaking their mother tongue. I must have sounded deaf asking them to repeat their name 3 times over along with their age. It was such a relief when someone spoke English because I could take a quick breather before figuring out the next age. Anyways, after a while I started getting the hang of it, guessing the age after a little bit of practice. One lady gave me her name and I asked for her age and she said 99 and I wrote down 99 and looked up at this lady , I was amazed, she was walking ably and looked as healthy as a fifty year old . I was just amazed. Another lady came and I asked for her age and she said she did not remember and I looked at her like “you don’t remember your age?” “seriously?” But it seemed so normal – it was long ago – I’ve forgotten – small things like this just made me laugh and I could not help being so excited about even just registering these people. One lady came to me asking about enrolling her kid in primary school and then asked me what was going on and I explained that it was eye camp, get your eyes checked for free, get free glasses and if you have a cataract we will perform that operation FREE OF CHARGE!! She signed up straight away ☺
People would then get in a line and the paper that I had given to them put them in a numerical order. They would then go and get their eyes checked in exactly the same manner you or I would get tested. We have all of the equipment here and each person is taken through the whole process.
After being at the registration counter I was upgraded to be a pharmacist/dispenser . There were boxes on the left full of glasses with positive-powered prescriptions and boxes to the right full of glasses with negative-powered prescriptions all labeled their respective prescriptions and further up front, all the ointments and eye drops were contained in boxes. I was handed a prescription by a person and had to go find their medicine, explain to them how often to take it in a day and for how long . Further, if they needed glasses I would have to choose a pair for them and had to show it to them make sure they could read or look ahead clearly and then move on. I had to hand each person a newspaper (if reading glasses ) and ask them mwana safi?( can u see properly ) muzuri? (good)? and then show them a picture of an elephant and kids and ask them what they saw..if they replied tembo (elephant) and watoto( children) I stamped it and went to the next prescription. Others were also doing the same and would ask me to double check as sometimes there were quite a few numbers on the page and we would have to figure out which was which. It was so invigorating to be able to take things into my own hands and feel such responsibility. There was nobody telling me what to do and I had to make sure I was doing the right thing. Who knew if these people would ever get eye care again? The energy that was running through me was insane. Here, I was able to give out 2 pairs of glasses to someone who would not otherwise have had it, give them ointment and drops that they may not have been able to afford and do this all free of charge. If they didn’t like the frame, I could choose out another smaller/bigger one and give it to them. In one day I had the materials to be able to give medicine, eyesight and eyecare out. It might not seem like such a big deal but for someone who may not have ever seen nor had glasses in their life, it is a massive deal and you can see it on their faces.
Amongst the services here were the eye test, an optometrist and an ophthalmologist. On the other side of campus at the medical centre cataract operations are taking place. I was able to go in and witness one for myself. It was pretty amazing to see it up close and personal. The things that I get to do here are so amazing and it would not be the norm to be able to experience these things in my normal day to day life.
Throughout this whole process, it’s not just me working but a whole team and to watch others do this work and have had done this work for over 20 years is just inspiring. I am surrounded by people who have really made this work their life. This is one of the volunteer’s 25th eye camp. Another person who is helping here has now retired and now lives on campus at WIPAHS and volunteers his time everyday from 8-4 in helping with the accounts of the school. Another has lived and volunteered at WIPAHS for the last 7 years and manages the whole school. Being surrounded by people like this everyday puts a new kind of energy into you. Some of them work from 7 am till 11pm and dedicate their lives to this place and institution and all free of charge. And it isn’t all just serious work; throughout the day these people are the jolliest of people. I find myself sitting at admin laughing at their jokes and their humor till my stomach hurts. I feel right at home at lunch and dinner as if this is my very own family. I am lucky to be in the presence of everyone here and savour every single day and try to soak in as much of them as I can.
For the last week and a half I have been sleeping at 12 am and waking up at 5 am (may be due to the Adhaan on the loudspeaker) but there is so much work to be done here that I just can’t wait to start my day. I woke up at 5 am this morning and its 2am right now and still cannot sleep because of how excited I feel about what was accomplished today. To be honest, I really don’t know when the last time I felt like this was. It is truly one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced.