12 January 2019

Glasses

Thai schoolgirl in glasses
From my days in Thailand, a particular observation has remained  in my mind concerning spectacles.

The international school where I taught was in northern Bangkok. Most of the children were from wealthy Thai families. In fact, most of them arrived at school each morning in taxis or chauffeur driven cars.

When I looked around my seated classes I noticed glasses. Of course not every child wore glasses but I would estimate that a third of my pupils wore them - either for continuous sight assistance or just for reading 

These children were well cared for. Materially, they had everything they needed and undoubtedly that included visits to doctors, dentists and opticians. Some of them may not have been very loved but at least if they required glasses they had them.

Then one day - during my second spell in Thailand - I travelled way out of the capital to a quiet  rural school in a rice farming district.  Accompanied by a couple of other teachers and twenty of our international school students, the trip was a planned exercise in personal and social education.

The rural school's lunchtime was approaching and I remember standing under a mango tree in the school yard as the children lined up to enter the barn-like dining hall. There must have been two hundred kids.

They were not used to seeing "farangs" (foreigners). As they filed passed me I smiled at each one of them, acknowledged them with a nod or said "Sawadee khrup/ka" (hello). When they were all seated in the dining barn, I realised that not one of the children  who had filed by had been wearing glasses. Not one.

I checked again in the dining barn and confirmed my initial observation. Not one of those rural schoolchildren was wearing glasses.

Reflecting upon this later, I knew that some of those children could have benefited from spectacles for general use or reading. However, these were kids from relatively poor rural homes. The very idea of visiting an optician and purchasing glasses would have been a notion beyond that community's  usual boundaries.

The contrast between the well-heeled school in the city and the poor school in the heart of the country was marked. I surmised that the same observation about glasses might easily be made in many other countries with wealthy children customarily enjoying optical support and poorer children missing out on it.

With regard to education, the ability to see clearly is pretty fundamental. If children cannot see properly their learning and development will quite obviously be impaired.

25 comments:

  1. Yes! Something this simple can have so much effect on children and how they grow and learn. This post made me think about the people of Cozumel. How many of them did I meet wearing glasses? Not many. Our old friends who own a beach bar and restaurant both had reading glasses to be able to see the bills and their daughter wore glasses. But they are exceptional- they have traveled all over the world and have some means.
    You've given me something to ponder, Mr. P.
    Thank you.

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    1. You could help some of the people of Cozumel. You could for example speak with your own optician about eye-testing children or provide older people with reading glasses perhaps donated by US companies that sell them. You are a resourceful woman with a big heart. You could do a lot...if you really want to Mary.

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  2. Yes, a client of mine once explained that she worked for a non profit organisation who did eye testing and supplied glasses in developing nations. It wasn't until she pointed it out that I realised a simple pair of glasses can take a person from legally blind to quite functional

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    1. That's pretty much what I realised too Kylie.

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  3. I think you might be surprised to learn how many countries have low income children with undetected vision and hearing problems. I am including the US in that group. Not all states here require or give adequate vision and hearing tests in school. If a child has a severe problem it is more likely to be caught by a parent or a teacher but many problems go undetected. I still remember when I first got glasses (as an adult) I had no idea how bad my vision was until I put on my first pair of glasses! Children are often not aware of some types of vision problems because it is the way they have always seen the world yet these problems can affect their growth and development.

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    1. Here in Britain with our wonderful National Health Service even the very poorest children receive eye tests and free glasses if required.

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  4. Accurate observation Sir. Other conditions also influence the difference in education of rich and poor. Hearing? Nutrition, Travel

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    1. Simply having a peaceful bed in which to enjoy a good night's sleep would be a dream come true for many children.

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  5. Our optician has a box for unwanted spectacles....they are apparently sent to Third World countries.

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    1. That's good to hear. It would be instructive to see where exactly those glasses end up and how they are distributed.

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  6. From the age of 7, I have been wearing specs. Every year, I needed a new pair, until I was grown up; from then on, I needed new glasses only every 2 or 3 years. I was always aware of the possibility to bring in my old specs so that they could be given to organisations active in Third World Countries.

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    1. You know better than most people how glasses can change lives.

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  7. Many of th optical shops here have donation bins for glasses that can then be sent overseas to poorer countries. When I change my prescription or frames I keep back my prior pair for emergencies and then donate the older ones - if your readers check I'm sure they'd find similar opportunities.

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    1. It's great that such recycling happens but it would be interesting to follow those old glasses and see where they end up... clearly not in rural Thailand or the island of Cozumel, Mexico.

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  8. Yes, my old specs go for recycling as well. Because I had perfect vision in one eyed when I was young no one (including me) realised until well into secondary school that I only had one usable eye. The other is supremely lazy. It all came to light because although I was wanted in the school cricket team for my bowling I couln't catch a ball unless it was coming directly at me and nor could I bat. You need two eyes, of course, to track a moving object accurately.

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    1. With one good eye you could have forged a successful career as a marksman... or maybe an assassin.

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  9. My second-grade teacher and my parents were all surprised when the school nurse told them after routine testing of younger students that I needed glasses. I was 7 and sitting at the back of the room and doing very well in school. Apparently I was memorising everything the teacher said. The teacher moved me nearer to the front of her class until my glasses were ready. I remember riding home in a car after I received that first pair of glasses and being astounded that there were birds sitting on telephone wires and there were individual leaves on trees. Life has not been the same since.

    Here's an unrelated saying I heard throughout childhood: Take care of your feet and your feet will take care of you. Maybe you can post about that.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your salutary childhood tale Bob. I suspect that a significant number of children at the rural school in Thailand could have similar moments of revelation if someone cared enough to test them and supply glasses to those in need.

      As in a game of tennis, I bounce the last paragraph back to you and suggest that you yourself address that particular pearl of wisdom!

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  10. I first got glasses in the fourth grade; I must have been around 9 or 10 years old. I remember being amazed on the ride home (just like a previous commentator) by the individual leaves on the trees. I've been dependent on glasses and contact lenses ever since. I feel so bad for kids growing up without access to such basic necessities for learning and experiencing the world.

    There is so much wealth on this Earth; why some people should be so disadvantaged is a mystery to me. It's the year 2019, for goodness' sake. I despair of humans ever being able to do better for each other. There's no reason we can't except greed and indifference.

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    1. See above. Mary Moon is contemplating doing something for the people of Cozumel. Maybe you could help her because you know more than most about how glasses can change lives. I am sure that in the homes of many of your middle school students there are redundant pairs of glasses just sitting in drawers.

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    2. I would be glad to help collect glasses for the people of Cozumel! That's a great idea!

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  11. From age eight until my cataract surgery a few years ago I had very poor vision. Glasses changed my life, and corrective lenses implanted during cataract surgery changed it again. I've always donated our old glasses for use in third world countries but imagine if those who needed them could have unlimited access to vision correction. We don't stop to consider our good fortune often enough, the good fortune that is often primarily a result of where we are born.

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    1. Like various other bloggers above, you know from experience how glasses can dramatically improve the quality of someone's life. I guess that there are some good people working in poorer countries to provide suitable pairs of glasses to those who need them.

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  12. Undoubtedly this is a problem all over the world -- even in so-called "wealthy" countries. Sometimes it's hard to tell that a child needs glasses, especially in a farming or agricultural environment where there's not a lot of reading going on.

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  13. With regards to life....the ability to see clearly, in every aspect; in every way - is fundamental.

    I use glasses for reading, and lesser strength ones for when I'm on my computer and when watching TV. I just use the magnetic ones and have a million pairs dotted about the place within easy reach for when needed...a slight exaggeration...but you see the picture!

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