See well, learn better

Part of the Primedia Group, Ster-Kinekor Theatres made the strategic decision in 2005 to align its corporate social investment (CSI) around sight and vision — a core part of its cinema product. This resulted in the organisation launching the Vision Mission project in 2005.

“Approximately 80% of what children learn is assimilated through their eyes. Eyesight problems consequently affect school achievement, sporting ability, and, by implication, social integration. Research revealed that blindness could be avoided in the majority of cases in our country if proper testing is done at an early age. Since a child’s visual system is fully developed between 10 and 11 years, if a problem is identified early and corrected, vision can be preserved,” says Geraldine Engelman, CSI manager at Ster-Kinekor Theatres.

This has seen Vision Mission screening in excess of 280 000 children from previously disadvantaged backgrounds across the country to date.

“Until early this year, we had a partnership with Spec Savers for the provision of professional services at its 250 national branches and mobile clinics. They played a key role in our success. We have subsequently [entered] into a new partnership between the Brien Holden Vision Institute and the South African Optometric Association. We have also received endorsement from the departments of health, education and social development,” says Engelman.

The other partners in the Vision Mission programme are Kabelo Mabalene, Bonteheuwel Organisation for Youth Development, The South African Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance School (AFDA), and OR Tambo International Airport through the Airports Company of South Africa.

Grassroots focus

The Vision Mission programme is operating in Gauteng, the Free State, the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga. “Although our focus is on metropolitan areas where we have our infrastructure, the need in rural areas is huge. We therefore expend some of our efforts in those communities, especially [in] KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga,” says Engelman.

Mission Vision identifies schools in underprivileged areas with assistance from the national government departments. It also integrates with the efforts of the national government 20/20 project by using ophthalmic nurses from the department of health to do initial screenings in schools.

These pre-screened learners are then brought for further eye tests at schools, local clinics, Ster-Kinekor cinema foyers, optometrist practices or community centres. The tests are carried out by registered optometrists who are brought in by the Vision Mission partners.

Prescriptions are documented, frames selected, and then sent to labs for completion. The learners who need spectacles return to receive their prescriptions, and then watch a movie with clear vision. Alternatively, the mobile clinics deliver the spectacles.

The sustainability of the project is measured by improved academic pass rates in class, the decrease of absenteeism in school, and the number of learners who return after two years for further eye tests.

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