How Your Clothes Can Restore Sight in Ethiopia

01 April 2014
The Huffington Post
By Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall  

Around the world 100million older people have to live on less than 60p a day. Many of them support and care for their grandchildren. The grandparents often go hungry so that the children can eat.

Many are also having to cope with the challenges of getting older, including managing difficult health conditions. Cataracts, an eye condition generally affecting people in later life, are responsible for half of all blindness in Africa and Asia. For older people working to support and care for their family, cataracts can make an already difficult situation worse. But it need not be like that. Cataracts can be treated with a straightforward operation that costs in the region of just £20.

That is the sort of help that Age International provides. I have had the joy of witnessing at first hand this charity’s work with older people in developing countries. I have such vivid memories of the people I met in Ethiopia, where I attended clinics and met grandparents in their homes. They are dedicating their lives to looking after their grandchildren, because the parents are no longer able to, either because of illness or death (life expectancy is horrifyingly low) or because they have left home to seek work abroad. I saw what a huge difference a small amount of help can make. The support these older people were receiving from Age International enabled them not only to feed their grandchildren and themselves, but to buy school uniforms and exercise books for the children. Sometimes the support goes towards buying materials to make and sell traditional artefacts, or culinary spice mixes, so that they can support themselves. Improved health also enables many older people to look after their families and makes their own lives a little easier as well.

Those of us who are grandparents, or who remember our own grandparents, will know what a special relationship it can be. I was immensely touched by the love between grandparents and grandchildren that I witnessed in Ethiopia – the grandparents are so proud of their grandchildren. They will do anything to ensure that the children can go to school, so they may have the opportunities in life that they themselves were denied because of poverty, disease and famine. I came away feeling humbled by the happiness, laughter and optimism that I found among these brave people who have so little, when we have so much.

Today Age International is appealing for people to support its work by donating clothes, CDs and DVDs to Age UK’s shops until 6 April. The money raised will fund health projects that will help nearly 400,000 older people in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The charity will use the money raised from the stock appeal to ensure that hundreds of health centres across four countries provide specific support for older people. It will also help older people get regular health check-ups and treatment, including eye care, by taking healthcare to older people in remote communities.

All of this will be done through people donating their clothes and other household items to Age UK’s charity shops. Having seen how this work can change the lives of grandparents and grandchildren alike, I would urge you to support the appeal by donating items to your local shop.

The money raise will be matched by the government – which even by my rudimentary maths, quite clearly means it will double.

To find out where your local shop is, visit ageinternational.org.uk/donatestock or call 0800 032 06 99. The funds raised from these donations will be matched by the government, effectively doubling them, making it an ideal time to give.


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