Vision – the Gift of Sight
by Captain Richard Oliver
DURING the 1990s I remember being bombarded with 20/20 Vision, the church growth plan of The Salvation Army’s UK Territory. Having been out of the UK Territory since 2001 serving in Brazil, I have not heard any more of 20/20 Vision. Have we actually lost sight of this or was it just another fad?
While at The Salvation Army’s training college in London, God gave my wife Sarah a very clear vision of us working with multitudes of children. God continued to develop this vision and revealed that we should offer to serve in Brazil. This was not what we were expecting – Sarah had been a geriatric nurse, working with old people, and I was a warehouse supervisor. Neither of us had any experience of working with children. But God continued to reveal that Sarah would be ‘mother’ to many. We already had three children of our own and that was enough, as far as we were concerned!
Having informed our leaders of this vision, and after various interviews, in 2001 we left the UK to fulfil God’s intention for us in Brazil. Today we serve as corps officers of Cubatão Corps and administrators of a very busy school reinforcement project.
On our arrival at our new appointment we were met by our new ‘family’ of 260 children, which has now grown to 300 children who we see each day. God was bringing to reality the vision that he had previously given us and we were beginning to discover that our lives were going to change.
The idea of the project is to assist the children with homework and reinforce the basic education they receive at school.
The project is in the middle of a large shanty town – home to 20,000 people – on top of a swamp, where most people live in very simple wooden houses.
Once we were settled in and got to grips with the hectic timetable of spending all the working week overseeing the project, and then in the evenings and weekends running the corps (church) programme, we started to search for ways in which we were going to assist those who were in our care.
One of the biggest problems we found was that a large percentage of the children were repeating the educational year because they did not attain sufficient marks to progress.
After asking questions and observing the children in the classrooms it soon became evident that one of the factors was that many were having difficulty seeing the blackboard, and as a result were not learning or completing the tasks that had been set.
Left: beneficiaries of the glasses project with Captain Sarah Oliver
Captain Oliver adjusts a girl’s new glasses
Children play outside their meagre home
Captains Sarah and Richard Oliver
Nataly, one of the children to benefit from the glasses project, outside her home
I set out to find a way in which this could be resolved. First I had to find a local optician who would be sympathetic to our cause. Eventually we found Eronaldo, who offered to carry out, free of charge, eye tests on all 300 children. In return we promised in faith to purchase any spectacles from him at a reasonable cost. The cost would be about R$150 (approximately £30) but this was half a month’s salary and out of reach of the budget of the families we were assisting. If we could get hold of frames we would need to pay only for the lenses and this would greatly reduce the costs.
We began making contact with friends and family to see if we could get hold of used frames, and also get assistance with the finances to pay the extra for the lenses. These requests were met with great enthusiasm and we received support from four or five Salvation Army corps back in the UK.
Thanks to this first initiative in 2003 we supplied 72 children with spectacles. Some of the children needed specialised examinations for more serious problems and Eronaldo arranged this at his own expense and even transported the children to an eye specialist in the neighbouring city.
The following year Eronaldo re-examined all the children. We had to change some of the lenses and some of the newer children needed spectacles. Once again this initiative was supported by contacts in the UK. We are trying to make this basic need part of our yearly programme. But why is it so important?
The community where we are working is already neglected by the local authorities because of its status as a ‘shanty town’. The real injustice is that, because of where they live, the people from the community have great difficulty in finding employment.
Some of the 72 children who received new glasses
Even with perfect vision the children we work with are already fighting to obtain equality, but if they cannot see well they do not progress at school. If they do not progress at school they have virtually no chance of getting employment. If they know they will not get employment, what does the future hold? It goes on and on – the poorest people can’t afford the opportunites and don’t get the basic help that will enable them to escape their poverty.
We have seen many results from this initiative. More than four out of every five chilren who had to repeat an academic year for failing to get the neccessary marks have now done well enough to move up a year.
This has knock-on effects – their self-esteem has risen and they have become more comfortable taking part in the lessons, something they may have been embarrassed to do before.
When a child comes to you and says: ‘I’ve passed this time!’ you get a sense of achievement that the effort was worthwhile. The child’s attitude to learning has been changed, all because he or she is able to follow the lesson thanks to something as simple as a pair of glasses.
God gave us a vision which he is enabling us to fulfil. These children do not have perfect physical vision but God is using our spiritual vision to give them some hope of a better life.
What value is there in having a vision? Vision – physical or spiritual – plays a part in all our lives. It is how we care for and use that vision that makes the difference not only to us but also to others with whom we come into contact.
Captain Richard Oliver is a UK Salvation Army officer currently serving in Brazil