As we celebrate 20 years of sight-saving work in Ethiopia, let us introduce you to Tsehay - an Orbis-trained Eye Care Worker. The 'mother of eyes' has changed the lives of an incredible 600 patients with blinding trachoma. She's extremely passionate about her work and dreams of becoming an ophthalmic nurse one day.

It can’t be a coincidence that Tsehay’s name means “sunshine.” She has a ready smile and laughs easily. It must be comforting for patients. Tsehay loves her work.

I was very sick when I was little and nurses took care of me – that’s why I wanted to become a nurse. It was my childhood dream,” she tells us. She was working as a nurse at Zada Health Centre when the woreda sent her to complete Orbis-supported training to become an Integrated Eye Care Worker. While it wasn’t planned, Tsehay is very happy it happened. “I’m very interested in eyes. I enjoy doing eye surgery!

It’s lucky that she does enjoy surgery as Tsehay estimates that she has operated on more than 600 people since she first trained 8 years ago.

Passionate and dedicated Tsehay is nicknamed the 'mother of eyes'

She treats people in her local community for trachoma, and carries out sugery to treat the late stage of the blinding disease – trachoma trichiasis (TT). A brief surgery can re-invert someone’s eyelid and relieve the excruciating pain of the condition, as well as halting sight loss.

Considering the number of surgeries that Tsehay has performed, among other treatments, it’s clear her role – and that of Orbis - is crucial within the community. “Orbis is working with us. Orbis is supporting the public and the health centre as well,” Tsehay explains.

Trachoma trichiasis turns the eyelids inwards, meaning the eyelashes scrape the eyeball causing excruciating pain

Since Orbis started to intervene in this district there have been massive changes, including reducing the number of trachoma patients; because now we don’t treat patients on the base facility only, we also go to the community, through outreach and campaign programmes – and we also treat them before it gets too late, so that they won’t need any surgery. Also the building of the latrines and the waterpoints also helped greatly for the lower prevalence of trachoma – it’s really helping.


Integrated Eye Care Worker, Orbis

Amazingly in the last 8 years she has performed operations on 600 people

Tsehay feels that Orbis has had a great impact on the community she works and lives in – the community feels that Tsehay also has. She is known as “the mother of eyes" because she has helped so many with their sight.

People are very happy with me because I’m helping them. Sometimes they say ‘mother of eyes’ because of their happiness and satisfaction with the work.” When asked about a patient that has had a particular impact on her, she clearly has many stories to choose from:

I have a very good relationship with all of the patients. The outstanding story I have with a patient is the same guy that gave me the gift of gabi [a traditional blanket]. I met him and noticed that he was struggling with his eye. I asked him and he said, 'I can’t work and I’m isolated from my community.' We brought him here and did his surgery successfully. When he went back he was really good, he started working, he got married. We still keep in touch. He still calls and he still comes and visits. He always tells me because of my noticing and my help with surgery, he’s able to be a healthy person.”

This is the part of her role she enjoys the most – helping people. “I’m very happy when people regain their sight – I feel very happy when I see them and solve their problems.

“I’m very happy when people regain their sight – I feel very happy when I see them, and to solve their problems.”


Integrated Eye Care Worker, Orbis

Hopefully she will be able to help people for years to come. Since her original training and refresher training, Tsehay’s interest in ophthalmology has grown and she has big ambitions.

"I want to study further – I want to become an ophthalmic nurse. Now I am fascinated about the eye and the surgery, I want to carry on with ophthalmology!”

Tsehay would make a fantastic ophthalmic nurse. The dedication she has to her work is incredible. We visit a patient’s home with her, and the family are clearly very grateful for her intervention. The difference she has made in the community is palpable. And the difference that Orbis has made in her life is clear also.

We first met Tsehay in 2013. A lot has changed since then. Alongside refresher training in TT surgery, and additional training in refractive error screening, things have changed in her personal life too. “A lot of things have changed in my life! I had a baby – he’s almost five. I also support my brother, who is in university, and he’s graduated – I feel so much accomplishment from this.

Orbis helped me change my life," says Tsehay smiling.

Tsehay is making a huge difference in her community

Thanks to dedicated and caring people like Tsehay, we can keep boosting eye health in communities across Ethiopia.

And while we have enjoyed great success there over the past 20 years, there is still a huge amount of work to be done. Over this time the population has grown from around 65 million to 105 million, putting extra strain on already overstretched resources.

Are you ready to help us train more community health care workers in all aspects of eye care?

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