People in Malawi with poor eyesight are now seeing the world in sharper focus thanks to project which produces inexpensive glasses. It's also creating much-needed jobs.
Chilungamo Chisuse is a locally trained Malawian optician whose business has been transformed by a German NGO called One Dollar Glasses.
As the name suggests, he now sells glasses for $1 (3,000 kwacha, 94 euro cents). The frames are made from steel wire using a bending machine, the lenses are not glass or plastic, but polycarbonate. The material costs are less than $1 and it takes about 20 minutes to assemble a pair.
Chisuse's financial status has changed dramatically for the better since he became a One Dollar Glasses optician. Previously, he couldn't afford decent accommodation or three meals a day, nor was he in a position to support his relatives. "My life has changed. I used to live in a small house, but now have I changed houses. I am living in an expensive house," he told DW.
He is also optimistic about the future. In Malawi, the One Dollar Glasses project is called Good Vision Glasses.
"I can see with good vision that with these glasses I will be somewhere high," Chisuse said.
Alex Armbruster manages the German NGO One Dollar Glasses. "We bring jobs to Malawi," he told DW. He explained that they train Malawians to manufacture, presecribe and sell the glasses, "They can make a living and the idea is that we are establishing a social project. He also said that as an NGO "we don't want to make an profit." They want to ensure that more people have access to glasses
Grace Zulu is one of Chisuse's clients. She is short sighted and got to hear about the new glasses from a friend. "They gave me the glasses that I wear now. I can see clearer now than before. The only problem that I have with the glasses are the frames, I feel like they are too thin. That’s the only thing they should improve on."
It is estimated that about 1 million Malawians need of a pair of glasses, but don't possess them. Poor eyesight is a social problem. Schoolchildren with poor vision perform badly because they can't read what the teacher is writing on the board.
Dr. David Njaidi, Director of Basic Education at the Malawian Ministry of Education, told DW that a lot of Malawian children have bad eyesight but not all could afford glasses.
"Usually it has been expensive to get glasses: you get glasses, maybe for 1,200 or 1,500 kwacha. But now these glasses are only costing 3,000 kwacha - and also the time taken to organize everything is very short so this is a big innovation for us."
The Good Vision Glasses' project has reached over 4000 clients in Malawi since late 2015.
The German ambassador to Malawi, Jürgen Borsch, is impressed. "It's a simple solution to a real problem for a number of people. Everybody knows somebody who has problems with vision either for reading or who is short sighted. I think it is absolutely amazing to see this project grow. It has ownership and it is being produced here in Malawi and can be used to help thousands of people who are in need, people who would not have a chance to see a doctor to test their eyes."
OneDollarGlasses is not only active in Malawi but in seven other countries as well, including Burkina Faso, Benin and Mexico. The goal is to help people who either can't afford eye glasses or who don''t access to a local optician.
A 2014 World Health Organization study found that there are some 150 million people globally who need glasses,but still don't own a pair.