China has one of the world's highest incidence rates of myopia, aka shortsightedness, which causes distant objects to be blurry. Online statistics show that nearly 55 percent of all Chinese teenagers are shortsighted. It is also noteworthy that the incidence of myopia is highest among Chinese primary school students, at 40 percent.
The British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai, having noticed this, launched a charity project, Bright Eyes, to provide free eye testing and prescription glasses to school children in Lixin county, Anhui Province. Located 700 km northwest of Shanghai, the county is one of the poorest regions in East China.
According to official information, there are 290 primary schools in Lixin, and each school has approximately 300 students, of which nearly 10 percent require prescription glasses.
Barry Kirkwood, CSR Manager of the British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai, told the Global Times that the chamber has been working to improve the educational environment of children in Lixin for almost 10 years.
During their interaction with local students, chamber employees noticed that many students struggled to see the blackboard clearly and thus fell far behind their peers. "They tended to have difficulties reading in class, following teachers' instructions on the blackboard," said Kirkwood.
"By giving them support in their vision, it's also giving them a chance to develop their education. A pair of glasses could give them a chance to catch up with their peers again," he said.
Volunteers & fundraisers welcome
For the Bright Eyes project, the chamber has been working closely with the Lixin Charity Association as well as a local hospital where trained medical staff carry out standard eye tests for each student.
According to Kirkwood, children who cannot read the eye-test chart are taken by a trained professional to a refracting machine to look deep into their eyes to identify any problems. After that the child is prescribed the exact lens strength they need for glasses."The data is recorded and sent back to us. We then forward that information to our manufacturing partners who make the glasses," he said, adding that each child is given two pairs of glasses in case their first pair is lost or broken. The total cost, from screening to manufacturing, is less than 300 yuan ($43.28) per student.
Kirkwood pointed out that despite the low cost, keeping the charity project going requires labor, money and time. As such, the chamber welcomes any form of help from companies or individuals.
"The most obvious way to help is through fundraising," he said. "We are very lucky that our members have supported us over the last two years. Many will do fundraising activities in their own offices."
Apart from financial support, volunteers are also welcomed at Bright Eyes. "What our members often want to do is to take a trip to Lixin to meet the children so that they can actually see what we are doing with the money and the impact it makes."
The next Bright Eyes trip to Lixin county will start in the week beginning January 16, 2017, and will take two to three days. Anyone who wants to get involved in the project can contact: Barry.firstname.lastname@example.org.