Vision for Bangladesh was founded by Rachel Andrews, who started her work in Bangladesh in 2006. After winning 'Nurse of the Year' award in 2008 award, Rachel used the prize money to fund a few children in Bangladesh to have sight saving surgery due to the extreme poverty of their parents. Her voluntary work continued, becoming an officially registered charity in 2017.
Vision for Bangladesh has seven trustees working hard to help those living in extreme poverty, while working closely with, and supporting, BNSB Eye Hospital in Moulvibazar.
The charity is entirely funded by donations and we're grateful for every penny given to such an important cause. Donations are used to pay for sight-saving surgery, hospital equipment and awareness programmes (including door-to-door knocking in the tea gardens) to find children in remote areas.
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Hello, I'm Rachel
My name is Rachel Andrews, and my story in Bangladesh started when I encountered the mother and daughter pictured below, through a taxi window in Dhaka. Highlighting to me that sadly in the developing world there is still avoidable blindness.
In 2017 I retired from my position of Paediatric and Adult Ophthalmic Sister at the West Suffolk Hospital’s Eye Treatment Centre in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
Since retiring my passion has grown greater than ever for this speciality and my love for Bangladesh has given retirement a whole new meaning for me.
The need out there is immense and I want to do all I can to tackle unnecessary blindness in the developing world.
Bangladesh National Society Blind (BNSB) hospital in Moulvibazar is well known in Bangladesh. The hospital was founded in 1981 by an Ophthalmologist who wanted to bring eye care to the very poor population in the district of Moulvibazar and it continues to do that today.
The hospital sees up to 600 patients a day, who all come from a large surrounding catchment area of 12 million people; some even travel over the border from India. The hospital frequently sends out teams of professionals to reach the people in the rural areas. The patients are screened and anyone needing treatment is transported to the hospital the same day.
The hospital is run mainly from charitable funds and is a nonprofit humanitarian hospital with 160 staff. The costs are still growing, especially as the population becomes aware of treatment being available. As word spreads that blindness can be cured in many cases, the demand increases.
It was here that my Bangladesh journey started in 2006 and the majority of the original team I worked with are still there, and are now close friends of the charity.
I first visited the hospital with two other colleagues from England to help train the doctors and nurses in Ophthalmic nursing and surgery. We went with the charity ORBIS which is part of the World Health Organisation initiative, Vision 2020, working to eliminate avoidable world blindness by the year 2020 (sadly this has not been the case yet).
That visit changed my life and began a lifelong relationship with the Bengali people.
One of our first teaching sessions was showing them the sterile technique of putting on surgical gloves. There have been many nursing practices I have been able to share with them and they are a pleasure to educate, with a keen spirit to learn and a sense of fun in every situation.
Perhaps the key paediatric change we made was the handling of the child and parent in the operating theatre. Ideally the mother stays with the child until anaesthesia is induced, as this keeps mother and child more relaxed and the whole experience less traumatic. We saw instant results when implementing advice like this.
Another good nursing practice we introduced was the organisation of the nurses scrub trolley. The trolley should be neat and tidy with every instrument identifiable in an emergency.
Orderly trolley = orderly thinking!
When advising best practice in Bangladesh, it can only be implemented if there is no or minimal cost incurred. Likewise the operating theatre should be clean and tidy at all times, this is in the interest of Health and Safety, infection control and best nursing practice. All this was easily improved without any need for finance.
Today, the hospital continues to improve its nursing practice and has won awards of excellence for it's care.
This was a special year for my nursing career as I was credited with the 'Patients Choice - Nurse of the Year Award UK' for helping a 13-year-old boy after he lost an eye in a tragic accident. This award spurred me on to help Moulvibazar Eye Hospital even more.
I returned to the hospital independently from any charity and continued to help, teach and build colleague friendships - helping the poor ophthalmically as our common goal.
I was able to raise £6,000 to send a 40-foot shipping container of refurbished NHS ophthalmic equipment to the hospital.
I brought their senior consultant Doctor Shah over to the UK from Bangladesh to observe ophthalmic medicine and surgery in this country. I also taught him to cook an omelette!
We were able to create a medical library with books donated from the UK.
The same year while visiting the hospital I was awarded the huge honour of becoming a lifetime member of the hospital. This cemented my commitment for life to helping the Bengali people.
I started a crowdfunding page to raise money for parents unable to pay for their child’s sight-saving surgery. We raised enough to help 50 children, and owing to this ongoing need we did something very special in 2017.
I visited the hospital on behalf of my trustees - we'd officially formed a new UK registered charity – Vision For Bangladesh.
I visited the hospital to look at the best way of spending the charity funds raised and at the same time helping the hospital with updating equipment. However, I was also made aware of the huge need out in the tea gardens where children were unable to get the treatment they needed.
We established the funding of a full time field worker in the Tea Gardens to find the children loosing vision with any degree of avoidable blindness. We then facilitate all treatment and its cost.
The Tea Garden people are socially, economically and politically marginalised. They have no access to healthcare and their children have a childhood of illness. Illiteracy is very high and the living conditions are one of extreme poverty. Wages are £1.20 for an 8 hour day. 80% of the population are stunted or underweight and anaemia is prevalent.
Vision for Bangladesh is committed to helping the Tea Garden people. Our aim is to eliminate avoidable blindness through the funding of treatment and to help the next generation move forward with preventative measures which enable parents in the future to be better educated on nutritional and general health issues and where to access modern healthcare when needed.
At the commence of 2021 we trained up two additional Healthcare Workers to educate the Tea Garden mothers on sanitation, general health awareness and nutrition, especially for their children.
The summer of 2021 saw the charities work expand again as along with BNSB Eye Hospital we did some free Eye Camps for the workers. This involves encouraging any adults with visual problems to come and have their eyes tested for free, and any treatment or glasses they needed would be fully funded.
The Tea Garden people have no access to modern medicine, and blindness due to cataract can occur from the age of 40 upwards. On average an Eye Camp is held once per month and sees around 250 people. Around 45 of those are taken to BNSB Eye Hospital for sight saving surgery.
“Not all of us can do great things,
but we can do small things with great love.”
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The need is desperate but the results of action are so rewarding.