Day TWO in Niger, February 3rd, 2010

We woke up early and Ed went with the ORBIS team to the airplane for his first meeting at 7:30am. He was very excited to see the airplane and expected to give his lecture on PHACO later in the afternoon. He had been preparing this lecture for a couple months, first writing it in English, coordinating the words with the video, and then having it all translated into French. I was so proud of all the efforts he put into making it a worthwhile talk for the Trainee doctors from Niger and Chad. I stayed back to do a 30 minute interview with Dini about P4K….Jonathan, our videographer, found a spot on the steps of building at the hotel, and we sat casually and chatted for about 30 minutes. Dini has a knack for putting people at ease and getting to the heart of the issues.

At about 9:00am, Hamani picked us up and we went to the airport for the official Opening Ceremony of ORBIS. All the dignitaries were there for the event including the Chef de Canton and the Minister of Health and of Transportation. It was supposed to start at 10:00am, but it was closer to 11:00 by the time all the officials showed up. The speeches were given by members of ORBIS and the government, and the Minister of Health acknowledged Ed in her speech as the person responsible for asking ORBIS to come to Niger. The representative from ORBIS acknowledged Pencils for Kids for its part as well……..

ORBIS is amazing – a fully equipped hospital…..4 surgeries done today….fast type of cataract surgery taught by a doctor from NEPAL….a technique used for treating masses of people and high volumes. A Plastics Doctor from Montreal did 2 orbit (bone around the eye) tumors today…Ed gave an hour lecture on modern cataract surgery….there is a 30 seat lecture room on the plane….full operating room and recovery room….anesthetists, nurses being trained, IT people, technologists/engineers who know the equipment…35 people in all…..they have a 2 week program. They will be doing glaucoma, medical retina, children, crossed eyes, and then on Saturday they are going to Liboré to examine 370 people by doing a mass screening and then offering many of those people free surgery later. These people have never seen an eye doctor ever. They have never seen a GP in their lives.

There was a reception where refreshments were served and both Ed and I were interviewed by a Newspaper reporter. Then we were taken by bus over to where the ORBIS plane sat on the tarmac. It is so impressive. We boarded the plane and began the tour. At the front of the plane there were chairs in front of a screen where ophthalmologists from Niger (there are only 15 eye doctors in Niger for over 14 million people) and Chad were watching an operation that was being conducted in the operating room next door. Incredible. The entire time there was a doctor narrating everything that was going on during the operation so the trainee doctors would understand every aspect of the procedures. We then went further down the aircraft and through a large window could see the actual operation taking place. The surgeon was accompanied by the Doctor in training, and also two nurses in training. A girl with a huge tumour above her lid was having it surgically removed. I felt so touched to know that this young girl would have had no opportunity to correct this problem had ORBIS not come to Niger. Now her life will forever be changed for the better.

Hunter, the director of ORBIS, talked to us about everything that ORBIS does around the world and the many lives that are forever changed and touched. The beauty of ORBIS is that the training it offers to eye doctors has a huge ripple effect that magnifies the impact of its services. There was for example a doctor from Chad who learned treatments for Glaucoma while he was there and he will now take those skills back home with him to treat those in his home country. He travelled thousands of miles by car to participate in the training.

After the tour, we had lunch at the airport with the ORBIS staff and Ed remained behind to give his lecture on PHACO on the plane in the afternoon. Many doctors came up to him afterwards and said they learned so much and enjoyed his presentation. All his hard work definitely paid off.

During this time, the rest of us went first to see the man who created and made the pencil necklaces for P4K, Tchima Abdo. His “shop” was set up at the side of the road, with all his people working under open tents behind the displays of sculptures. It was great to finally meet him. I did promise that we would be ordering more in the near future, as soon as I could figure out how to ship them less expensively.

It was hot and tiring by the time we finished this visit. The Mayor met us at this time and Ron and I headed over with him and Hamani to speak with a publisher about potentially publishing a book in Zarma, the local language. I had heard from CODE, a charitable organization in Canada that they had a group in Tanzania who were very successful printing books in the native language there in the Children’s Book Project. There is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that literacy improves when children first learn to read in a language they understand from birth. In Tanzania they ran a competition, asking all the teachers to create a story, and their students to illustrate. The winning story was then published with 5,000 copies or so produced and distributed. I loved the idea and wanted to experiment with it in Liboré.

The Publisher was a lovely man and told me that he too agrees with this approach and so did the Mayor. He said he would get back to me with a price soon with different quantities.

Ron and I then went with Hamani to the Handicapped Centre, as they call it there, the place where we had purchased volleyballs for our new volleyball program. We were both so moved by what we saw. In a small dark room, facing the street, about 7-9 men were sitting around and making volleyballs by hand. All were disabled in some way, by polio or birth, some crawling around using only their hands as their legs were of no use. It was heartbreaking to see and yet there were smiles on everyone’s faces. Ron and I explained who we were, via Hamani, and they were delighted that we took the time to drop in to say hello. Both Ron and I came away wanting to do more.

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