04 September 2017

Lots more glasses ready to go to Malawi

Thanks everyone who washed, sorted, measured and packed over 300 glasses last Friday, ready for sending to Africa! And thanks too to those who donated and collected the secondhand glasses.

30 August 2017

More Goggle Working Friday 1 September

With three clinics now in operation in Malawi, so the need for glasses is growing! Thankfully, our supply of second-hand glasses is keeping pace too, but before they can be sent to the clinics, we have to sort, wash, measure and package them. And that’s what we do at Goggle Works Parties (as well as eat and drink a little). So we need your help! No previous experience needed, full training provided. Our next party is on Friday 1 September at 19:30 in Colchester. Call 01206 622712 for more details.

25 August 2017

Focus on Malawi sponsors clinician for further training

One of Focus on Malawi’s main priorities is to help provide training for staff at the clinics in Ekwendeni, Livingstonia and Embangweni, and we do this as suitable staff become available there, and as funds allow here.
The latest candidate is Lesley Matimba, a medical assistant working in Ekwendeni eye clinic, who has been accepted on (and started in June 2017) an 18-month course at Malawi College of Health Sciences at Blantyre. On this course he is working for an upgrade diploma in clinical medicine, which will lead to further training in ophthalmology. To help with his studies, FoM volunteer Jill Paxton has donated a laptop and we’ll be sending that out with our next visiting team in September 2017. Thank you Jill!
We believe that one of the most effective ways to eradicate poverty is to encourage locally sustainable training, knowledge, skills and work. If you would like to help, why not think about contributing to someone’s clinical education? All the courses we sponsor lead to qualifications that are only valid in Malawi, so the candidates remain committed to serving within their country. If you’d like to know more, contact Sue (see sidebar right).

18 June 2017

Clinic at Embangweni soon to be ready

To establish an eye clinic in Embangweni has been in our sights for a while now, but this year it will happen! Management at Embangweni mission hospital have allocated a room and made available staff. On arrival, the team found the room being cleared and refurbished. While waiting for that to be completed, together with the new staff, they checked through the recently-delivered equipment and did a stock-take and sort-out of donated second-hand glasses (there were 1116). And now it's intensive training for the staff, with an exam on Monday.

14 June 2017

Repairs at Livingstonia

In spite of the damage done to the equipment by the lorry accident, the team reports that most of the equipment sent to Livingstonia to can be reassembled to be in a servicable state. However, a slit lamp is missing, and they're hoping to find that it has been misdirected to one of the other clinics.

A day's work on Lake Malawi

Here are some pics of the boat journey from Mlowe to Tcharo (as mentioned in previous post), showing off the beauty of Lake Malawi. It was a long day: up at 4am, driven from Livingstonia down the Gorodi Road (mostly unmade, with 22 hairpins, down the side of the Rift Valley) in the dark, depart Mlowe by boat, arrive Tcharo at 11am, do clinic, have some lunch, boat to Zunga for another clinic. Then the return to Mlowe, during which they encountered heavy weather (the lake looked less idyllic – and even the regulars strapped on their lifejackets). Back up the Gorodi in the dark to arrive Livingstonia at 8:30pm.

09 June 2017

Making good – the story so far

Back in February, we reported that we were sending a large amount of good quality optometry equipment (the sort used when you visit an opticians), enough to kit out Ekwendeni, Livingstonia and Embangweni clinics to a UK professional level. Then in April, we heard the awful news that the lorry carrying this stuff had come off the road and that damage had been done to the contents.

Thankfully all was not lost. The damaged equipment was retrieved and delivered to the relevant clinics. Now our visiting team is out there (having packed tools, fixings, glue, clamps, etc in their luggage), and they report that, after a couple of days' work, and with the help of local tradesmen, Ekwendeni's equipment is now in working order (see pics below) – bar some electrical bits that need replacement.

On Wednesday, they travelled on north to Livingstonia, from where yesterday they did some clinics along the lakeshore. Their pressing job, though, is is to fix the damaged optometry equipment in Livingstonia, and get it ready for use. More reports to follow!

It's coming together.

Applying Ikea-learnt skills.

Job done!

06 June 2017

Another quiz win!

The "Almost Conscious" team did it again. They came second in this month's quiz night yesterday at the Bricklayers pub, Colchester. There weren't so many punters last night so the prize money was down, but it's another tenner towards funds, and every little helps!

27 April 2017

Accident on the way to Mzuzu

We regret to report that a lorry containing our last load for the clinics came off the road earlier this week, not far from its final destination, Mzuzu. It included the important optometric equipment we purchased last year (including three combination examination units).

We are thankful to hear that the driver was not hurt.

Together with support from the police and the army, the Synod of Livingstonia organised volunteers which retrieved the cargo, and trucks which transported it safely to the various destinations. As yet, we have no definite reports on the condition of our equipment and we have requested photographs of damaged items. The equipment was very well packed – more than aqequate for the normal arduous journey, but not for this kind of accident.

It was planned that our 2107 visiting teams would set up the equipment ready for use this year, but now it's possible that they may be limited to assessing damage and attempting repairs.



14 April 2017

More Goggle Works Parties soon

There are two more Goggle Works parties coming soon! The first is on 28 April and the second on 19 May, both starting at 7.30pm, in Colchester. As usual, there'll be plenty of nibbles, cakes and coffee to keep everyone working hard. Email Sue for more info.

04 April 2017

Quiz night success

Here is the 'Almost Conscious' team celebrating their prize money for getting to second place in yesterday's big quiz event at the Bricklayers pub in Colchester. They announced that the money would be donated to Focus on Malawi. The prize was around £18 and team member Colin topped it up to £20. Cheers guys!

24 February 2017

Latest news from FoM

A lot has been happening at Focus on Malawi recently, so this post is a kind of catch-up newsround.

Secondhand glasses and Goggle Works Parties

We continue to receive glasses from many individuals, hospitals, churches and other organisations. For which many thanks! Some of the glasses we receive have vintage value and in 2016 we were able to make £222 from selling 20 pairs of vintage glasses on Ebay. With this money we were able to buy ready readers and other useful stuff.

The donated glasses are washed in various supporters’ dishwashers and sorted before measuring. We have a number of eye professionals who steadily measure hundreds of glasses in their spare time. We also have fairly frequent get-togethers in Colchester when friends and supporters sort and measure, with tasty refreshments to help them on. Anyone can help at these ‘Goggle Works Parties’, whether professional or lay. In recent years, we have trained the staff in Malawi to measure glasses, so we send some unmeasured glasses directly to them.

Clinical equipment

In 2016, we have been able to source in the UK and send to Malawi a large amount of good quality optometric equipment (that is, the sort of equipment used when you visit the opticians). Supporters Louise and Colin Tokley got married and all their friends gave money instead of presents so that we could buy a panoptic ophthalmoscope for Livingstonia. An optometry business in Anglesey closed and we were able to buy equipment from its three practices at a very generous price. The shipment is expected to arrive in Malawi soon and will provide full professional equipment for three clinics.

News from the clinics we support:

We report with sadness the death in 2016 of Flyness, one of the clinical staff. We have made a financial gift to her family, as she was the source of income for her children and grandchildren. We visited her family village in September for a celebration of her life.  We have subsequently welcomed the appointment of a new clinician, Leslie Matimba, who will be working alongside Evance Gama. At the same, a search is on to find an appropriate training course for him, but with no progress yet, as the right course is currently unavailable in Malawi.

The clinic, however, is in good shape and serving local people well. An auto-refractor, which we purchased and sent out in 2015, has extended the range of optometric services beyond solving simple reading problems.

Livingstonia is blessed to have Godfrey Mkandawire, a retired senior ophthalmic clinician, working in the hospital and organising clinics at remote sites. He has plans to expand the work and to develop cataract surgery. We continue to support him and the hospital management as they work through all the challenges involved in making these plans a reality.

For some years we have been aware of the need to establish an eye clinic at this hospital, situated near the Zambian border, and which serves a rural population of 140,000. With the support of the hospital’s management, we are now in a position to provide and deliver equipment (planned for September 2017) and to help with training appropriate staff.


We also make ourselves available to support local schools, and when we visit, carry out sight tests as requested. We have sponsored children needing specialist treatment. 

Some of our donors (donations including glasses, equipment and funds)

Eyetech Optical, Slough
Inner Wheel Club, Colchester
Parsons Heath Baptist Church, Colchester
Prettygate Baptist Church, Colchester
Specsavers, Colchester
Bethel and Clark, Colchester
St Michaels Church, Westcliff
Jean and Geoff Thompson, Anglesey
Louise and Colin Tokley, Colchester
Townswomen's Guild, Colchester
...and many other individuals

How we have been spending funds donated

Panoptic ophthalmoscope
Volk Lens
Three combination examination units
Three complete optical mirror and vision chart sets
Two focimeters
Two frame heaters
Comprehensive selection of optometry tools
Sponsored a cataract training refresher course for young clinician at a government hospital.

Thank you The Raven Trust

As always, we are indebted to the amazing storage, transport and admin services of The Raven Trust (John and Sue Challis and friends, including Alan Laverock and Bob Baxter), without which little of of this would have happened.

Future developments

Here are a few of the things we're planning for in 2017:
  • student sponsorship
  • training for clinical staff
  • clinical visits – two planned in 2017
  • sponsorship for children needing specialist treatment
  • fundraising
  • purchase of auto-refractors for Embangweni and Livingstonia
Well there it is! If you have any queries or would like to know more, just get in contact!

26 November 2016

Next Goggle Works Friday 2 December 2106

The next Goggle Works party is on Friday 2 December 2106, starting at 7.30pm, in Colchester. As usual, there'll be plenty of nibbles, cakes and coffee to keep everyone working hard. Email Sue for more info.

05 September 2016

Ophthalmoscope wedding gift!

When FoM supporter Louise and husband-to-be Colin were planning their wedding earlier this year, they decided to ask their guests not to give presents – but to donate to Focus on Malawi. They have amazing families and friends and the total was £895! We are so grateful to Louise and Colin and all these lovely people. Their generosity has enabled us to purchase a Welch Allyn PanOptic ophthalmoscope, which is portable and specially suitable for using where it is difficult to black out a room. This year’s visiting team is, as I write this post, taking the equipment to its future home in northern Malawi.

05 July 2016

Goggle Works July 2016

Last Friday we had another of our Goggle Works parties in Colchester, where we cleaned, sorted and measured a new batch of glasses for sending off to Africa. It was also the opportunity for this year’s visiting team to plan for their trip, which will be in September. If you’d like to join us for future Goggle Works events, or would like to support in any way, do get in contact!

Award for work in Malawi

Our congratulations go to John Challis, joint founder and principal trustee of The Raven Trust since its inception in 2000: he has been awarded the OBE for his work in Malawi. Focus on Malawi could not do what it does without the resources, oversight and advice of The Raven Trust. So thank you — and well done John!

01 November 2015

Welcome to Focus on Malawi!

Focus on Malawi is a project that works in rural northern Malawi, where most people support themselves from the produce of their small plots of land. A basic primary education is provided free, but secondary schools are fee-paying. Healthcare is patchy, and there are many young people orphaned by HIV-AIDS.

Until recently, healthcare in the majority poor areas has focused on maternity services, nutrition, health education, medical and emergency services. Eyecare has been low on the agenda. Eye problems exist, of course, but with additional needs owing to: climate, malnutrition, tropical diseases, and a lack of understanding about the care of even minor injuries.

As anywhere else, however, about half of the sight needs are presbyopia (long-sightedness), so a large proportion of the problem can be solved with simple reading glasses.

And this is where Focus on Malawi started, on its first visit in 2005, dispensing second-hand glasses sent by well-wishers in the UK and USA.

Subsequently, two eye clinic buildings (at Livingstonia and Ekwendeni mission hospitals) have been completed, with equipment supplied from the UK.

The ongoing challenge is to find, train and retain local staff to provide a permanent, sustainable service. We sponsored the training of our first ophthalmic clinical officer, who ran the Livingstonia clinic for two years (but who unfortunately is now moving away from the area). However, there is some good news: an even better qualified person has recently arrived at the hospital, and he is likely to be able to expand the service significantly.

In the meantime, there are two members of hospital staff at Ekwendeni Hospital (see pic), dispensing reading glasses. They charge a small fee to patients and the income helps to offset the clinic's costs.
Recent developments in internet access in East Africa have helped us improve liaison with staff and management. Teams from the UK visit every year or so, to monitor progress and to conduct clinics. These teams consist of volunteer optometrists, orthoptists and ophthalmologists (who pay for the cost of their travel and lodging).

Back home, we collect second-hand glasses, sort and measure them (see previous posts about our  famous Goggle Works parties) and send them out to Malawi.

Focus on Malawi is ably assisted by The Raven Trust, a charity which finds and ships (usually second-hand) equipment out to Malawi, and provides expertise in building, project management and training.

The Raven Trust provides a secure shipping service for our glasses and equipment and, when we visit, they kindly arrange our transport and accommodation. When we're not there, they keep an eye on how the work is going. They also provide registered charity accountability for our project.

19 October 2015

Livingstonia update evening 11 November

On Wedneday 11 November 2015, we'll be having a party to welcome Dr Lyn Dowds, clinical head of the David Gordon Memorial Hospital in Livingstonia, Malawi, to Colchester. She'll be updating us on progress at the hospital and latest plans for the future. Starts 7:30pm, in Colchester. For more info email Sue.

14 August 2015

Goggle Party and Visit Report 14 August

The trip went very well! On Friday 14 August, we're having a Goggle party to report back and show some video of the local staff using the new autorefractor at with patients. For more info, email Sue.

02 June 2015

Visit to Malawi 2015: team is out there now

This year's team consists of just two members, Sue Kevan (orthoptist), left, and Emma Hewson (optometrist), right. With luggage stuffed to the limit with donated glasses and equipment, there was a lot of heavy lifting along the journey. They report that the auto-refractor (see previous posts) arrived safely, since when they have been training local staff in its use.

20 May 2015

Olive Branchers collect 90 glasses!

It was great to visit the Olive Branch at Parson's Heath Baptist Church yesterday. They're a very sociable and welcoming group for the over 55s, and yesterday were serving amazing home-made ginger cake with the tea and coffee. It was our second visit to talk about Focus on Malawi and, since the first, they had collected 90 pairs of second-hand glasses for sending to Malawi. And here they are all set out. Thank you Olive Branch for your interest in Focus on Malawi and your generous work!

23 April 2015

Goggle Works party wasn't all work

Our Goggle Works party last Friday went well: lots of people turned up to sort and measure glasses and help calibrate a new auto-refractor. Thanks everyone. Is helping people to see better lots of fun? The 'Ayes' have it.

15 April 2015

Goggle Works Party Friday 17 April

From Focus on Malawi – eye care in Ekwendeni and Livingstonia
Join us in Colchester on Friday 17 April at 7:30pm to help prepare glasses and equipment before they are shipped out Malawi. As usual, there are many recently-donated glasses to sort and measure.

We also have an important new piece of equipment to test – an auto-refractor. Purchased with funds generously donated to Focus on Malawi (part of The Raven Trust), this machine is used to do eye tests to determine what glasses patients need. At present, our Malawi staff mainly dispense simple reading glasses for long-sighted people, but with this machine, which virtually automates the testing process, they will be able to test for the full range of optometric needs.

But we need to calibrate the machine before it's sent off, so this is where you can help too. Come along and we'll see whether you need glasses or a change to your existing ones. (NB we'll be providing this as guidance only; you should visit your GP or local optometrist as soon as possible if you think you have an eye problem.)

There'll be plenty of tasty nibbles to keep you going, together with tea, coffee and some wine. Contact Sue for venue details.

07 December 2014

Operating microscope arrives safely

Here is Mr Mkandawire, clinical officer in ophthalmology, giving the thumbs up as he tests an operating microscope that has just arrived from England. The microscope was donated in July this year by a medical practice in Suffolk (see this post for more details) to the eye clinic at the David Gordon Memorial Hospital, at Livingstonia. The hospital is planning to develop eye care services further, with the possibility of providing cataract surgery in the next couple of years. This microscope is an essential tool in eye surgery.

01 October 2014

September 2014 team visit

The objective of this year's visit was to assess progress over the past two years, to do training, see some patients and to discuss options for the future with medical staff and managers. Here is the team with  Mr Mkandawire (centre), clinical officer in ophthalmology at the David Gordon Memorial Hospital, Livingstonia. From left to right are Dr Caroline Sheldrick (ophthalmologist), Sue Kevan (orthoptist), Louise Clarke (ophthalmic nurse) and Jim Seymour (optometrist).

13 September 2014

2014 Team leaves for Malawi

This year's visiting team (an ophthalmologist, an optometrist, an ophthalmic nurse and an orthoptist) leaves today for Malawi. The objective is to help encourage further development of the eye care services at Ekwendeni and Livingstonia by talking to clinicians and managers, and doing some training.

Of particular interest is the proposed development of cataract services at Livingstonia. This is a big step and it requires that much – medically and administratively – is in place before going ahead. The team hopes that good progress can be made while they are there.

Additionally, they expect to conduct some clinics at various locations, including a children's school for the blind.

14 July 2014

Operating microscope donated

Plans to expand ophthalmic services at the David Gordon Memorial Hospital, Livingstonia (above), have taken a big step forward with the donation to Focus on Malawi of a Ziess operating microscope, by the Ivry Street Medical Practice in Ipswich.

The microscope will open up the exciting possibility of providing a cataract lens implant service at the hospital. On behalf of the David Gordon Memorial Hospital, we'd like to thank the Ivry Street Medical Practice for this generous and timely gift.

After being handed over on 3 July, the microscope was taken to the Trust's warehouse in Dundee, and two days later it was on its way Malawi in a shipping container.

Accepting the gift from Pam Halston (centre) of the Ivry Street Medical Practice, are John Challis (left), director of The Raven Trust, and Dr Caroline Sheldrick (right) of Focus on Malawi,

John and his wife Sue Challis of The Raven Trust get ready to take the microscope to the Trust's Dundee warehouse, for its onward journey to Malawi.

10 March 2014

Ekwendeni clinic goes mobile

The two staff members at Ekwendeni Hospital who dispense reading glasses have recently received bicycles so that they can take their service out into the surrounding country. The bicycles were kindly donated by The Raven Trust.

09 March 2014

The next Goggle Works party is on Friday 14 March, starting at 7.30pm, in Colchester. As usual, there'll be plenty of exotic nibbles, cakes and coffee to keep everyone working hard. Email Sue for more info.

09 November 2013

More glasses sorted

Here are the team on 8 November, modelling some vintage specimens, as they sort and measure.