The Right to Sight: Ensuring Clear Vision for Rural Children in Vietnam

Ngoc couldn’t see clearly. When the eighth grader tried to read the board in class, everything was blurry. And even when her teacher let her sit up front, Ngoc struggled because of her poor eyesight. She did the best she could by borrowing her friends’ notes from class.

Two years earlier, a doctor at the district hospital had treated her for a corneal infection, but Ngoc’s vision remained blurred. She needed glasses, but her family was unable to pay for them.

Many of the 430 students at Hai Hoa Secondary School come from farming communities. Because their families live close to or below the poverty line, the school provides annual physicals. But until HKI brought our ChildSight program to the region, students’ eyes were examined only for signs of conjunctivitis—not for vision problems.

“When Ngoc told my husband and me about her blurred vision, we were very worried about it,” her mother said. “But we could not take her to Nam Dinh Eye Hospital. We hoped we could take her there after the spring crop harvest.”

One in every five children in rural Vietnam has an undiagnosed refractive error—the shape of the eye prevents images from focusing properly on the retina. Without corrective lenses, what these kids see is always blurred or distorted. This lack of clear vision affects their ability to perform academically and has a negative effect on their self-esteem.

When, thanks to HKI, Ngoc and the other students in her school received vision screenings free of charge from a local eye health team, it was discovered that Ngoc’s refractive error was 20/120 in both eyes. Normal vision is 20/20, so something that children with unimpaired vision can see clearly from 120 feet away, Ngoc could only see clearly from 20 feet away.

With her new eyeglasses, however, Ngoc’s visual acuity is now 20/25. She can see and read easily, complete her schoolwork, help her parents at home, and take care of her younger siblings.

“I am very happy and thankful to HKI,” her mother said. “When Ngoc told us that her school had vision screening and the eye team from Hai Hau District would come to her school for eye exams and eyeglass distribution, my family felt relief. We believe that with her new vision, she will have a better school performance.”