Eye health hero wins top award

Eye Health Hero award winner Michele de Vaal. (121005M1b)
Eye Health Hero award winner Michele de Vaal. (121005M1b)

An eye health worker from a Ripon opticians has success in her sights after scooping a charity award for 10 years of work in Ethiopia, where health provisions are scarce.

Michele de Vaal, an optometric clinical assistant at Cowen & Morgan Opticians on Westgate, won an award as an ‘Eye Health Hero’ by the International Association for the Prevention of Blindness last month.

“It was a real honour to be accepted as an Eye Health Hero and I think I showed that you don’t need all these letters behind your name to get the job done,” she said.

Ms de Vaal was at the forefront of an initiative to build clinics in Ethiopia in 2002 with the charity Vision Aid Oversees, which offers eye tests and spectacles to people in rural communities.

The project has since evolved and four vision centres have been built throughout Ethiopia, where in-house staff are sent to study optometry degrees at university.

“We want them to help themselves,” said Ms de Vaal, who attended a General Assembly in Hyderabad with 17 other award nominees last month.

“I met all the people who are on the ground, the people who actually get their hands dirty,” she said. “There is no ‘and the winner is’. We are all winners.”

Two universities in Ethiopia - Gondar and Hawassa - now offer the optometry course, the first of its kind in the country.

“I was shocked at the conditions in Ethiopia at first,” she said. “But it makes you realise how great the need is for these people.”

Suzy Lamont, Vision Aid Overseas’ former International Programme Director, said: “Michele’s passion for providing access to affordable eye care in Ethiopia knows no bounds.”