A woman pointing to an eye test

Sitali’s Journey from Vision Loss to Eye Care Advocate

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are sharing with you the story of Sitali, a tea picker from Bangladesh. Thanks to the support of people like you, she went from struggling with her eyesight to helping others in her community to overcome sight loss.

21-year-old Sitali is from a family of tea pickers who work on the Malnicherra Tea Estate in Sylhet, Bangladesh.

Here, the tea garden workers – mostly women from minority groups – spend eight hours a day picking tea leaves like those which make your cup of tea. Tea picking is an intricate occupation that requires close concentration and good hand-eye co-ordination.

Yet tea workers in Bangladesh are vulnerable to health issues. It is hard for them to get adequate medical help, as there are often no eye care services locally. This means that they often rely on traditional healers to solve health concerns. Tea pickers often struggle with eyesight issues and even blindness as a result of a lack of available eye care.

A group of women picking tea in a field.

Around 300,000 tea pickers work in Bangladesh’s tea gardens, 75 per cent of them are women.

In Bangladesh just as elsewhere, blindness is a gender issue: globally there are 112 million more women than men living with vision loss, including blindness.

There are lots of barriers in place which lead to women being affected by sight loss more than men. These barriers often include a lack of education, difficulty in accessing finances, an inability to travel as well as being unable to be treated by male doctors for cultural reasons. 

Eyesight Issues Impacting Education

Just a few months ago, Sitali was dealing with serious vision problems and was depressed about her future. She could not see well, which made studying difficult.

“When I was studying in school and college, I could not read the writing on the blackboard seven or eight feet away in the classroom. Not only in the classroom but also in various activities of daily life, I had to face problems with my eyesight difficulties.”

Sitali’s father had also recently died, meaning that the financial burden to support the family now rested on herself and her mother. Unaware that her sight loss could be treated, Sitali was scared for the future.

All It Took Was a Pair of Glasses

Yet in September 2023, Sitali found out that a new local eye care project was looking for volunteers to work with the tea garden community. She applied for the role and was invited to a training.

Whilst Sitali listened carefully to the training, she was unable to see any of the text or images that appeared on a screen. Worried about this affecting her getting the job, she stayed quiet about her eyesight issues.

But things changed when the trainees were asked to test each other’s vision in a practical class.

The eye care project staff saw Sitali was unable to see distant objects clearly. As a result of this, she has taken to hospital, where she had her eyes examined and was given a pair of glasses.

Her vision improved with her glasses, and she was soon able to see much more clearly.

A woman pointing to an eye test

After receiving support for her eyesight issues, Sitali is now working as a Community Eye Care Worker in a project run by Orbis and Nayan Voluntary Organisation. Her role involves carrying out eye screenings for women in her local community and assisting them to get eye treatment.

Sitali’s mother says, “My girl is so lucky. Orbis and Nayan's project is a God-sent blessing for Sitali and our family”.  Sitali herself said: “Thanks Orbis for creating opportunity of eye care services in our garden’s community and for my treatment.”

Orbis’s Eye Care for Tea Pickers

Along with local partners, Orbis have been working to improve the vision of tea workers in Bangladesh.

From October to December 2023, 3,517 women were screened as part of a house-to-house community initiative. From this, just some of the treatment provided included 140 women receiving prescriptions for glasses, and 58 women receiving cataract surgery.

Giving women within the tea picking community the chance to seek eye care is life changing. Women are able to earn a living, contribute to their families and avoid social isolation. On International Women’s Day and year-round, you can help us break down the barriers that stop women and girls from seeing and realising their dreams.

Help break down barriers for women and girls this International Women's Day

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