First of all, the Kikuyu are the largest Ethnic group in Kenya. They live in many parts of a country that is about the same size as Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany put together. The Kikuyu live mainly from farming just like a major proportion of the population of Kenya. Legend has it that the name comes from a man who lived many hundreds of years ago called Gikuyu.
One fine day Gikuya was asked by some deity or other to move to a place called Kirinyaga with his wife Mumbi, who was appointed to him by the same god. The two of them had nine daughters who became the great mothers of the different tribes of the Kikuyu. These tribes can still be partially identified today. So this is first of all the story of Gikuyu, Mumbi, their nine daughters and how the Kikuyu came into being and got their name.
As you see, the whole thing has nothing to do with bad parentage. Now enough of the old legends! It would be far more interesting to move onto what this eye clinic is all about. A bit of information is necessary upfront before the background to our story is told. The situation in Kenya and in many of the surrounding countries in Africa looks like this: Because of poverty and the resulting state of malnutrition, bad basic hygienic conditions and inadequate health education available to the people, the rate of people with severely impaired vision or who are totally blind is extremely high.
Globally there are 37 million blind people and 180 million people have seriously impaired vision. A total of 90% of those afflicted live in developing countries. In regions like Kenya and around Kenya there is one Ophthalmologist (eye doctor) to every million inhabitants, but there are only very few clinics that can be reached by patients. And often the necessary resources to cure the sick are lacking.
An additional problem is the lack of education about the causes of blindness and the ways to heal people’s eye conditions. In Kenya, where the greatest part of the population lives in tribal village and family units, the main income of the country depends on agriculture and there is no real transport infrastructure. Many communities do not know that blindness in the case of cataracts can be healed. Blind people or people with extremely impaired vision just manage to stay alive in darkness, they are fed by their children and grandchildren and find themselves on the edge of society, incapable of either working or living a satisfying social life.
To literally open up the eyes of these people, to bring light into their darkness and to open the vast palette of colours, shapes and various facets of the visual world is the goal of the Kikuyu Eye Unit. This and no less than this. If they hadn’t lived hundreds or thousands of years ago Gikuyu and Mumbi would have been proud of what a single eye clinic has managed to do in the three decades since its establishment: hundreds of thousands of people have had their eyesight restored to them.
A whole bunch of workers, from the truck driver to the assistant, from the secretary to the apprentice operator to the nurse, the cataract specialist to the assistant medical director, they have all had an enormous positive effect with their daily work. In 2004, 6,392 people had their sight restored. One could say the Kikuyu Eye Unit never sleeps: doctors, nurses and all the other trained helpers at the Kikuyu Eye Unit diagnose an utterly incredible number of cases each year (approx. 70,000) and perform surgery on a no less astounding number of them (approx. 8,600). You can look up the exact numbers at Lomography.com/kikuyu!
To give a person in Kenya their eyesight back has far reaching consequences, consequences that surpass their individual fate. To let a blind person see does not only mean that an afflicted individual can recognise his surroundings, his family and friends again after years of blindness, and experience the joy of seeing again, but also that the village or tribal community regains a productive member. The small family units depend on every helping hand. It is a catastrophe for the whole family when a person drops out due to blindness. The spiral of poverty is drawn downwards.
Up to 75% of the illnesses which lead to severe eyesight impairment or even blindness, affecting the whole community, could be avoided. Simply by prevention. What is missing is adequate knowledge and the necessary medication to take action at the outbreak, so preventing any worsening of the symptoms. In the next chapter we will tell you about which illnesses are meant exactly, what causes them, how they can be prevented and how they can be treated.