“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Helen Keller
Sight is the ability to see, a function rendered by our eyes; however, vision is the ability to see what could be, and is a function rendered by our minds. Having impaired eyesight can therefore cripple our ability to realise our vision and aspirations.
The Futuregrowth Agri-Fund 2 Fund Advisor began a focus on farmworker eyecare in 2018, after becoming aware of the high prevalence of untreated eye and vision problems in the South African rural communities. Due to socio-economic and historical disadvantages, and exacerbated by a lack of facilities, most farmworkers have never even considered having their eyes tested. They are often completely unaware that they may have impaired vision or even potentially more serious problems such as colour blindness or incipient eye disease.
During 2018, 189 employees at the Bonathaba and Brandwacht farms were tested and 106 of these were provided with spectacles. During the current quarter, the programme was extended to the employees at the Fund’s De Riviere farm near Porterville in the Western Cape.
The initiative was funded from the Fund’s ESG budget and was undertaken on days chosen by the farm management, to ensure that there was no loss of production. A total of 144 workers were tested. This included all of the farm’s permanent workforce as well as a proportion of seasonal workers who either have longstanding relationships with the farm or hold roles where perfect vision is particularly important.
Of the workers assessed, a total of 69 required spectacles (a slightly lower percentage than typical for rural farmworker communities, according to Agrivision who provide eyecare services for the Fund).
Agrivision travelled to De Riviere with their equipment, to undertake the testing, which takes only a few minutes per worker. A list was compiled, describing whether distance, reading, bifocal or multifocal lenses were required for each person. The workers were able to select their own frames before the glasses were made up.
Although spectacles are tangible tools, with a price per unit, there is an intangible value to the improvement in quality of life which suddenly having corrected vision brings to anyone.
All indications were that the workforce felt valued by this initiative, which was introduced to the farm for the first time. Some workers were heard exclaiming how differently they saw colours and objects when wearing their new eyewear, while others were more excited about their ‘new look’. Each person emerging in his or her new spectacles was greeted by the others with shouts of “looks good on you!” or “jy lyk nogals mooi, ouman!”.