Trachoma is a blinding eye disease that is prevalent in Kenya’s Narok District. Caused by bacterial infection, it spreads easily through contact with eye discharge from infected people on hands, towels and clothing, and also through direct transmission by flies.
But trachoma can be prevented with proper sanitation – and Sarah Kiruri, a teacher at Kishermoruak Primary School, is dedicated to preventing the spread of this painful eye disease by encouraging her students to wash their hands and faces.
After receiving training from Operation Eyesight on the importance of personal hygiene, Sarah has taken up the fight against trachoma with a passion. Each morning, she inspects every student in her school to ensure their faces, hands and fingernails are clean before they go to class. The students have given her the nickname “Mama Safi,” which means “mother of cleanliness.”
Sarah joined the school in 2008. At that time, teachers would spend long hours looking for water – the nearest source a dirty pond seven kilometres away. Personal hygiene in the school was poor since the little water available was used for cooking and essential tasks only.
Thanks to our generous donors, Operation Eyesight developed a borehole at the school to provide clean water and help stop the spread of trachoma in the village.
“We appreciate the project,” says Sarah. “We no longer have to walk long distances to look for water. I now have enough time to relax and plan for tomorrow’s lessons.”
Now that the teachers have convenient access to water, they are able to spend more time coaching their students. As a result, the school’s performance has improved dramatically, and the student population has almost doubled! In addition, the students are cleaner and healthier.
“We used to suffer from waterborne diseases, but now we are healthy,” explains Sarah. Sarah arrives at the school at 7 a.m. every day and inspects 380 students during the morning assembly. If a student does not meet the cleanliness standards, they are enlisted to sweep classrooms or clean the washing bay.
On weekends, she visits neighbouring homesteads and talks to women about the importance of facial cleanliness and the use of latrines. Her mission to eliminate trachoma makes her stand out in the community. The villages have a long history of living with little water and have never placed importance on facial hygiene. Changing their attitudes can be challenging.
But the plight of many people in the community suffering from an eye ailment that can easily be prevented through simple acts, captures Sarah’s heart. While she searches for a way to reach out to the people in the village, they teach her to become a wiser, stronger person.
Sarah says she is grateful to Operation Eyesight for helping her discover her hidden passion of working with communities. And we are grateful to Sarah for her dedication. Together, we are working to eliminate trachoma and prevent blindness – for all the world to see!
You can read about our other trachoma projects in the Narok District here.