For most who have taught in Yunnan, especially those instructing young children, witnessing students struggle to make out what is written on the chalkboard is, unfortunately, a common sight. For many, the problem could be solved by a short trip to the optometrist and the purchase of a pair of eyeglasses. Often though, it is simply not that easy, as families, especially those in rural areas, lack the money needed to acquire corrective lenses.
In an effort to combat this impediment to learning in a corner of western Yunnan, Fran Deram is working to raise roughly 12,000 yuan (US$2,000) to help grant the gift of sight to her students in Lincang Prefecture (临沧). Deram is a teaching fellow with Teach for China and works at Dachaoshan Middle School in Dachaoshan West Town (大朝山西镇) in Yun County (云县).
Deram estimates at least 15 percent of the students in each class cannot read the blackboard due to uncorrected vision problems. Only about two percent of those kids' families could put together the funds to pay for an eye exam and buy glasses. And it isn't only a problem of money.
Tucked away deep in the terraced mountains that line the Lancang River, close to the border of Myanmar, Dachaoshan West Town is far away from just about everything. Its location, three hours away from the nearest developed city, means that the closest bookstore, grocery store and the nearest eyeglass store are all also three hours away.
Of the 550 students attending the middle school, most students' families cannot even afford the 30 yuan bus fee from their village to the city. The 12,000 yuan fundraising endeavor will pay for a doctor to come to Dachaoshan and provide both eye exams and prescription eyeglasses to all students at the middle school who need them.
These funds will help fix a simple but important problem which keeps dozens and dozens of students from learning every day. Getting glasses for these students means that will no longer be a strain to see the blackboard, that helpful classmates will never need to dictate notes after class and that students will make fewer errors when taking down notes.
As soon as the 12,000 yuan goal has been reached, arrangements will be made for an optometrist to come to Dachaoshan Middle School and start examining students. Any extra money raised will be donated to other Teach for China schools also seeking eyeglasses for their students.
Fundraising efforts have already generated one-fourth of the total needed. If you would like to help out, donations are gratefully accepted through the Dachaoshan Eyeglasses Project (requires proxy) through the website Fundly. For more details or other ways to donate, Deram can be contacted directly at franderam[at]gmail[dot]com. Those donating more than US$100 who are interested in receipts for tax purposes can email her as well.
From an email from Fran Deram:
Today the Yunxian eyeglasses doctor (Mr Peng) was able to visit our school and test every single student in the middle school and 4th, 5th and 6th grade at the elementary school. At the end of the day, we found that 80 of our middle school students and 11 of our elementary school students require glasses. Mr Peng will come again on Wednesday to specifically find out the prescriptions needed for our students. Then, about two weeks from now, the glasses will be assembled and ready to be handed out to students!
I wish you could have seen the expressions on my students' faces when I told them that the exams and the glasses are all free — they were really shocked (and very happy)!
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