Author Archives: Claire Coveney

Claire Coveney

Continuing Helen Keller’s Legacy in Indonesia

This blog was written by HKI’s Director of Communications after a recent field visit to Indonesia.

Merilya Wanti, a resource teacher in Jakarta, works with two students as part of Helen Keller International's Opportunities for Vulnerable Children program.  Photo: c. HKI

Merilya Wanti, a resource teacher in Jakarta, works with two students as part of Helen Keller International’s Opportunities for Vulnerable Children program.
Photo: c. HKI

Most of us living in the United States take the freedom and ability to attend school for granted.  Over the past 100 years, great strides have been made to ensure that all children, regardless of who they are or where they come from, have access to public education, as well as the opportunity to learn and grow through all that it offers.

However, for many children living with disabilities in other parts of the world this is not the case.  In fact, of the estimated 1.5 million children in Indonesia who live with disabilities, fewer than 4% have access to any educational services.  Historically, Indonesia offered very few options for students with special needs children.  If one of these schools was too far for a small child to commute to every day, that child often stayed home and received no formal education at all.


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Categories Asia-Pacific

On the Path to Clearer Vision

Imagine that your sight is slowly declining and you have no idea why. That’s what happened to Bibhuti Chakraborthy, a 55 year-old farmer and father of three children who lives in rural Bangladesh.

Bibhuti attending his most recent check-up. Photo: c. HKI

Three years ago, Bibhuti noticed that he could no longer see his fields as clearly as he once did. Tasks that were once simple became more difficult because he had trouble seeing. He didn’t understand what was happening to his vision or why he could no longer see properly and everyday life became a struggle. Desperate for answers,  he visited the nearest hospital where he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy, a condition where damage to the blood vessels in your eye leads to visual impairment.  Bibhuti was not even aware that he had diabetes or that diabetes could be connected to the vision problems he was experiencing.  Unfortunately, Bibhuti’s story is not uncommon: people suffering from Diabetic Retinopathy are often unaware that their vision problems are connected to diabetes.

Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) affects 4.2 million people around the world, most of whom live in developing countries.  With cases of diabetes on the rise worldwide, it is more important than ever that diabetics understand the risks and complications of the disease. HKI trains health workers to screen people for DR to promote early detection. The program also provides treatment and counseling that helps diabetes patients understand the risk factors associated with diabetes. Piloted three years ago in Bangladesh and Indonesia, the program has already provided screenings to 25,000 diabetics and preserved the sight of 4,000 of them.

Bibuthi is seeing much better these days. He completed a sightsaving laser treatment in his right eye and is about to undergo another surgery for his left eye.  Thanks to HKI’s counseling programs and regular visits to his doctor, he now understands the implications of his diabetes.  He tries to walk at least 20 minutes each morning, takes his tea without sugar and tries to balance his diet with more vegetables, cutting out the sugars and fats that worsen his condition. He also receives regular phone calls to remind him of his check-ups and treatments, and Bibuthi is glad to know that HKI is with him each step of the way as he continues on the path toward clearer vision.

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Categories Asia-Pacific, Preventing Blindness

Georgia Students Serve, Lead and Share to Prevent Blindness!

This blog was written by Angela Blankenship, who teaches third grade at St. Luke School.

St. Luke School, Columbus, GA. Photo c: HKI/Angela Blankenship

St. Luke School is a faith-based school in Columbus, Georgia, of about 560 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.  Serve, Lead, Share in mind, body, and spirit was the school’s theme for the 2012-2013 school year.

Through this Serve, Lead, Share focus, each grade level chose an organization to support for one month. It was hard for each grade level to decide which organization they would like to support.  However, it was exciting for the third grade class because St. Luke’s third graders participate in an interdisciplinary unit of study of Helen Keller.


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Categories Helen Keller, United States

Clear Vision for New York’s Future

This post was written by ChildSight® New York Program Manager Tonya Daniels.

Today is World Sight Day, a global day of awareness about the importance of eye health. It also serves as a great reminder to have your child’s eyes checked.

One NYC student on the path to clear vision at a recent ChildSight® screening. Photo: c. HKI

Did you know that up to 80% of what your child learns is through their eyes? One of the most common – and preventable – obstacles to academic success is unclear vision. The fact is if your child can’t see the writing on the board or the text in a book, it can mean the difference between doing well in school this year and failing.

It’s a familiar scene: a student suddenly starts to fall behind or lose interest in subjects they once loved. They miss homework assignments, seem distracted and act up in class. Maybe they no longer want to play sports after school with their friends. Parents and teachers are left mystified. more…

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Categories United States

Back to School with Clear Vision!

Pencils are sharpened, notebooks are at the ready and the excitement of a new school year, full of new beginnings and possibilities, is in the air for students all around the United States.  But many are starting the school year off at a disadvantage.  Some have to squint to read the blackboard or borrow notes from their friends; others lose their place while reading their text books. more…

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Categories Preventing Blindness, United States

HKI at Women Deliver Conference

This blog was originally written by Ramona Ridolfi, the Gender Advisor at HKI Bangladesh.

Last week I had the pleasure to attend the third Women Deliver Conference, one of the largest world conferences of the decade focused on the health and well-being of girls and women, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Women Deliver brought together more than 4,500 leaders and advocates, representing over 2,200 organisations and 149 countries, over a three-day event.


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Categories Asia-Pacific, Reducing Malnutrition

One Mother Helping Many

Homestead Food Production in Nepal

Photo: c. HKI/George Figdor

Parvati was born into a small family in Far Western Nepal. Since her family could not afford school fees, she has no formal education.  She has a small piece of land, but it is not sufficient to provide food year-round for Parvati’s family, which includes her small son and daughter.

Motivated by the need to care for her family, Parvati joined HKI’s Homestead Food Production  program, where she received training in  homestead farming.  After learning about how to cultivate nutrient-dense vegetables and raise chickens for egg production on a Village Model Farm, she received five chickens and seasonal vegetable seeds, along with the skills she needed to manage them. Before long, Parvati was able to multiply her five chickens to 16 and now feeds her family with healthy vegetables from her own garden and protein-rich eggs laid by her chickens.

With her family healthy and thriving, Parvati wants to give her children a chance to have the formal education she did not.  To do so, she is selling her vegetables, eggs and hatched chicks to raise enough money to send them to school.  “I will continue to raise more poultry and vegetables by renting additional land from big landholders,” she says. “I have a plan to send my children to a better school with my earnings.”

Beyond allowing her own family to benefit from her new skills, Parvati is helping other mothers in her community reach their full potential.  She began teaching farming skills at her village’s infant and young child feeding group “I tell my friends and neighbors about the importance of eggs and vegetables for their children and for women when they are pregnant and breastfeeding.”

As we approach Mother’s Day, HKI will be celebrating mothers around the world.  Mother’s like Parvati, who are a testament to courageous women everywhere and a reminder of how, with the right skills and tools, one mother can help many.

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Categories Asia-Pacific, Reducing Malnutrition

In the Field with HKI-Sierra Leone

This blog post was written by Anitra Sprauten. Anitra graduated from Bowdoin College in 2012 with a degree in Government & Legal Studies and French. Originally from New York, she is finishing up the academic year as an English teaching assistant at the University of Western Brittany in France. She hopes to return working with INGOs to improve standards of public education and public health in less economically developed countries. 

Overlooking Kroo Bay in Freetown

Overlooking the city from a steep hill in Tengbeh Town, the Helen Keller International (HKI) office in Freetown, Sierra Leone is frequented by visitors from many sectors. HKI does a wonderful job of coordinating its efforts with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and other non-governmental organizations, so while the office itself is not very large, its reach spans the entire country.

For many, Sierra Leone is a country of extreme hardship. Maternal and child mortality rates are very high and the general population lives with very little income. However, residents of Freetown have a profound entrepreneurial spirit, and those who do not have steady employment work as petty traders. The city experienced a rapid boom of urbanization, and as the population continues to grow, Freetown continues to catch up. more…

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Categories Africa

A nocturnal Lymphatic Filariasis study

This blog was prepared by HKI Field Intern and Guest Blogger, Justin Graves. Justin spent six months working with HKI’s Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) team in Guinea and is currently an MPH Candidate at Columbia University.

When searching for a practicum site, I was keen to pursue fieldwork as I lacked experience in this area of public health. The projects at HKI Guinea presented a chance to gain skills working in the field by applying concepts and theories.

After 4 months of paperwork during the peak of Guinea’s rainy season, the first fieldwork activity presented itself and with it an opportunity to work with the infectious disease team on lymphatic filariasis (LF) research. To put the disease in perspective,  the World Health Organization (WHO) considers LF to be a leading cause of long-term and permanent disability, and tackling the disease is critical to promote health in Asia and Africa. The LF situation in Guinea presents a major burden across the country. Recent mapping studies have established that approximately 4.5 million people are at risk for this debilitating disease. That is almost half of Guinea’s total population, which is estimated somewhere between 10 and 11 million people.


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Categories Africa, Preventing Blindness

Rashida Begum: A New Entrepreneur

Rashida in her garden

Rashida in her garden

Rashida and her husband live with their two sons in Howalvangi, a village in southern Bangladesh. With her husband’s meager income, Rashida says “I could not feed our family. Sometimes we ate only once a day. We used to own a few goats and sheep, but had to sell them to buy food.”

To supplement their diet, Rashida tried to cultivate vegetables in their home garden using the traditional approach: simply scattering seeds on the ground without preparing raised beds, protecting seedlings or adding compost to the soil. Her harvest was limited to a few vegetables in the winter (peak growing season). The region’s poor soil made growing vegetables difficult for Rashida, as it did for other women in the village.


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Categories Asia-Pacific, Reducing Malnutrition