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SKYGEN International Foundation Celebrates 5 Years of Impact

foundation collage

It was five years ago this week that the SKYGEN International Foundation team arrived in Arusha, Tanzania to launch the first of its many mobile vision clinics. The Foundation finds cost-effective ways to improve the delivery of vision and dental care in underserved parts of the world by using emerging technologies. The team visited five villages in five days, providing what for many Tanzanians was first-time access to vision care. The team served people of all ages, from school-age children to a few adults over the age of 100.

“Each day hundreds of people arrived on foot and waited all day for their free vision test and glasses,” recalls SKYGEN International Foundation Executive Director Lisa Sweeney.  “Unfortunately, not all could get tested as darkness set in each day.  The team tested 1,537 people that week and gave away 1,527 pairs of free glasses, built to each person’s exact prescription.  The need was so great; the work had to continue and expand.”

In the five years since that inaugural trip, SKYGEN International Foundation has provided more than 200,000 vision tests and 44,000 pairs of eyeglasses to people in need. “Even though glasses seem so little, the gift of sight, especially seeing correctly, is one of the biggest assets we have,” says Project Coordinator Emanuel Kitoi. “The elderly especially are revitalized in church and the wider community by being able to interact again in services and general activities, because they are able to read and see well.”

Making Vision Care Sustainable

After hiring a local team to continue the mobile vision clinics, the Foundation turned its attention to establishing permanent vision care centers in the Meru region. In Tanzania, there is just one optometrist for every 150,000 people.  

A partnership with NSK Hospital in Arusha enabled the Foundation to create a vision department within the hospital. The Foundation’s full-time optometrist and part-time ophthalmologist see about 120 people per month in that office. The Foundation also recently established the Maji ya Chai Optometry clinic just outside of the city of Arusha. The clinic will be one of the first points of contact for screenings and referrals for vision issues that cannot be treated there. 

“We’ve created a model where the work we do through outreach with the mobile clinics helps us identify people with more serious problems,” says Kitoi. “We can now send them to the appropriate places for more care, and people have a place where they can get glasses replacements and their yearly check-ups.” 

Expanding into Kenya

The Foundation has also established a mobile vision clinic and permanent vision clinic in nearby Kenya. “We use our team from Tanzania to train and support the efforts in Kenya,” says Sweeney. “The drive is about four hours - when we don’t run into giraffes blocking the highway!”  Education about good eye care is a regular part of the services provided to visitors in all of the clinics.

Adding Dental Services

The need for dental services is also great in Tanzania, where there are just 
4.5 rural dentists for every one million people. However, dental care can’t effectively be made mobile, so the SKYGEN International Foundation is taking a different approach: 

  • Through a local partnership, the Foundation is training recent dental school graduates in management and philanthropic skills to provide oral health services to underserved areas throughout Tanzania. 
  • The team recently delivered vision and dental outreach and education services to almost 50,000 students, including free toothbrushes and toothpaste. 
  • The Foundation will soon open a dental department in NSK Hospital. 

“Our work has been very well received in the communities, and is becoming more well-known,” notes Kitoi. “Although we’re celebrating our five-year anniversary, we still have a long way to go. We’ve only been able to cover the Meru area with vision services, and are establishing dental care now. We would like to cover more of Tanzania and Kenya.” 

“After we saw the extent of the need that first week in 2018, we knew it had to expand way beyond our initial expectations,” adds Sweeney. “It’s incredibly rewarding work. During my last trip there, a woman in the marketplace thanked me over and over for the glasses she received at one of our clinics. The people we see are so grateful for everything we do.”

You can read more about SKYGEN International Foundation’s five-year impact and follow the journey forward here. If you’d like to support the Foundation’s mission, please donate today

Learn how you can transform the delivery of health benefits with SKYGEN.