Ray of hope: ZABA eye project aims to stem out visual impairment in youth

LAHORE: Visual impairments are a pervasive issue in Pakistan, affecting individuals across all age groups. According to the Pakistan Medical Association, of a population of 230 million, an estimated 10 million people in the country are visually impaired, and a significant portion of this demographic includes school-age children.

The reasons behind this high prevalence are multifaceted, encompassing poor nutrition, limited access to quality eye care, financial constraints, and the lack of awareness about the importance of regular eye check-ups.

One such project to combat this issue is the ZABA Eye Project, started by Sarem Khan, a 12th grade student in Philadelphia. Named after his beloved grandparents, Zarmina, Almas, Bashir, and Akhtar, the ZABA Eye Project was born as a ray of hope for students living below the poverty line in Pakistan without access to any formal eye care.

During Sarem’s visit to a TCF (The Citizens Foundation)  school in Chung, Punjab, he observed that none of the children were wearing glasses in any of the classes. Having worn glasses himself, this was rather surprising, and upon asking the school administration, he found out that none of the children had ever been properly tested for visual acuity. This interaction was embedded in Sarem’s mind and he launched the ZABA Eye Project in partnership with Lahore-based schools dedicated to the education of underprivileged children.

The first step in the ZABA Eye Project’s process involves comprehensive vision tests conducted on students across all grades. These tests are conducted by a qualified optometrist who assesses each student’s visual acuity and identifies those in need of corrective glasses. Once the visual acuity has been determined, Zaba Eye Project provides free glasses to all the students who were found to have visual acuity. Lastly each student receives a card detailing their impairment numbers, facilitating tracking and follow-up.

This meticulous record-keeping ensures that the project team can monitor each student’s progress accurately. This personalized approach is a testament to the project’s commitment to excellence and its dedication to improving the lives of these young learners. Sarem Khan has personally raised all the funds that are required to undertake these tasks as well as keeps centralized records of all the students. He interacts with the schools and manages and supervises the optometrist, Mr.Naveed, who is the integral component of the whole operation.

To date, the ZABA Eye Project has reached out to eight schools, screening an astounding total of 2,556 students. One striking revelation from the project’s work is the high prevalence of visual impairments amongst these students. In each of the schools visited, a significant percentage of students, ranging from 20 to 30 percent, were in need of corrective glasses. The ZABA Eye Project has been able to provide 700 free glasses. In addition to the students, the teachers of the school are also screened and in a recent school, all 25 teachers needed glasses. This collaboration serves as a beacon of hope for these young learners by improving their vision and hence enhancing their educational experiences.

The impact of visual impairment on a child’s education in Pakistan cannot be underestimated. When students can’t see clearly, their ability to read, write, or effectively engage with classroom materials is hindered, which, in turn, affects their future prospects. The glasses distributed by the ZABA Eye Project are poised to bring about a brighter future for Pakistan. By providing clear vision to these young minds, the project opens up avenues for them to explore the world of knowledge and opportunities, ultimately paving the way for a better and more promising future for the students of Pakistan.

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