Canadian well floods Kenyan school - with kids

CALGARY, Sept. 21 /CNW/ - The school in Ongata Naado, a small village in Kenya's Maasai Mara, is bursting at the seams with a 50 per cent jump in enrolment over the past year. It's not due to a baby boom or a sudden change in attitudes to education-it's because the once-parched community finally has a safe, reliable source of abundant water.

The water well is just one small component of an ambitious development project spear-headed by Canada's Operation Eyesight. The project's ultimate goal is to eradicate trachoma, one of the world's leading causes of unnecessary blindness, from the entire country. But along the way, other unintended benefits of the project keep cropping up.

"At virtually every bore-hole we've drilled so far, communities immediately make plans to construct or enlarge a local school," says Pat Ferguson, president & CEO of Operation Eyesight.

"The impact on girls' education is especially dramatic because most had to walk many kilometers each day to fetch water for their families, leaving no time for classes. With the new well, girls' enrolment at Ongata Naado school has doubled."

More children from outlying areas are also attending school, bringing containers with them and carrying water home at the end of the school day.

Recruiting and retaining teachers in waterless African villages is notoriously difficult and sometimes impossible. Well-educated teachers know the dangers of consuming unsafe ground water and usually have the luxury of finding work elsewhere.

Moses Naikuni, headmaster at Ongata Naado's school, is relieved that high staff turnover is no longer an issue, especially in view of the mass influx of new students. He also recently announced plans to construct dormitories to accommodate boarding students from more distant communities that lack school facilities.

Operation Eyesight launched the trachoma control project in Kenya's Narok District in 2007 and is implementing the World Health Organization's full SAFE strategy to eliminate trachoma. SAFE includes Surgery to treat trichiasis (the late stage of the disease), Antibiotics to eliminate infection, Face washing and hygiene promotion, and Environmental change including wells and latrines to prevent re-infection.

Thirty-three deep water wells have been drilled so far and 2 water pans are currently under construction. At least 17 more wells will be needed in Narok District to ensure most people have access to clean water.

The Kenyan government is committed to the project and several of its ministries are working in close partnership with Operation Eyesight to plan, implement and ensure sustainability of the project. Narok is just one of 18 districts in Kenya with a high prevalence of trachoma. As funding permits, Operation Eyesight will work with the government to implement the SAFE strategy in the remaining 17 districts.

Kenya and much of East Africa are currently in the midst of one of the worst droughts in about 50 years. The unreliability of seasonal rains makes it even more essential for people to have access to permanent water sources, reducing the need for seasonal migration and making it possible to irrigate nutritious crops.

"The water table throughout Narok District is extremely deep, making these wells very expensive to drill," says Ferguson. "It's one reason so little progress has been made in the past. But the long-lasting and far-reaching benefits for these communities more than outweigh the cost.

"With the support of generous donors, we're not only preventing blindness, we're helping people move from hardship and poverty to health and prosperity."

Operation Eyesight is a Canadian international development organization dedicated to preventing and treating blindness throughout the world for more than 40 years-primarily in South Asia and Africa. We help local medical professionals provide comprehensive, sustainable eye care and community development for the people of the world who can least afford it. Since 1963, Operation Eyesight has helped restore sight to more than two million people and provided blindness prevention services to nearly 33 million others. For more information, visit www.operationeyesight.com.

Global Blindness - Every five seconds, one person in our world goes blind and a child goes blind every minute. More than 90 per cent of the world's blind people live in developing countries, where day-to-day life is already daunting and blindness is a direct threat to life. Over 75 per cent of this blindness is preventable or treatable.

Trachoma is a disease of the eye caused by bacterial infection and is easily spread. Children are most susceptible. Those afflicted by trachoma do not go blind instantly. The disease progresses gradually until scarring from prolonged infection causes the eyelashes to turn inward and scratch the cornea, leading slowly and painfully to complete blindness. In the developing world, about 80 million people are affected by trachoma and over 8 million suffer the late painful stage of the disease.

SOURCE OPERATION EYESIGHT UNIVERSAL

For further information: For further information: Lynn Leduc, Media Representative, leducl@operationeyesight.com, Cell: (403) 988-9751, Toll Free: 1-800-585-8265

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OPERATION EYESIGHT UNIVERSAL

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