Veronica: “This handbag brings light to a world of darkness”
From Mary Poppins to Margaret Thatcher, it’s not unheard of for a handbag to represent power. But the bag belonging to Veronica is unusual in becoming a symbol of sight to a whole community.
The 28-year-old first became interested in eye care when she worked in a rural health facility after leaving school. Her neighbours began approaching her for help with their eye problems which, not being medically trained, she was unable to provide.
“I was so moved when I saw young mothers suffering from trachoma, children with trichiasis desperate to go to school, fathers trying to fend for their families with agony and suffering, with nobody to guide them on what to do. I therefore decided to go back to college and study eye care, with a view to coming back and assisting my community,” Veronica explains.
For the people of Turkana County, Kenya, reliable health care is hard to come by. Facilities may be up to 30km from people’s homes, and banditry, poverty and poor roads make them almost impossible to reach. For those who do make the journey, lack of equipment, drugs or specialist ophthalmic staff make accessing treatment for eye problems almost impossible, while lack of clean water ensures that diseases such as trachoma are endemic.
Having been sponsored to train as an ophthalmic nurse in 2012, Veronica now works at the Katilu Eye Unit, supported by Fred Hollows Foundation. But the community knows her as the owner of the magic handbag, providing care to people in their own homes and always equipped with eye drops, just in case.
“Each week I arrange a village visit and I carry my bag containing eye drops along with me. If I don’t carry these drops and I meet a patient who is really in need, I feel guilty because it will take me another month or so to visit the village again.”
The only nurse in an area with a perennial staff shortage, Veronica also trains community health volunteers, manages trachoma case finders and provides follow up care to patients post surgery. But she enjoys the symbolism that has attached to her simple green bag.
“This handbag brings light to a world of darkness faced by many of the poor community members in Turkana. It holds the key to unlock that darkness.”