OneDollarGlasses in Burkina Faso
The OneDollarGlasses e.V. association was the first prize winner of the “empowering people. Award” by the Siemens Stiftung in 2013. In the same year, ODG launched its first activities in Burkina Faso with the aim of providing as many ametropic people as possible with affordable glasses. With the help of the new glasses, it is possible to generate more income and to help children achieve better education.
Since 2015, the Siemens Stiftung has been supporting the association in the expansion of the project in Burkina Faso. The overall aim is to establish a self-supporting distribution model for the supply of the population in the country. Martin Aufmuth is the inventor and managing director of OneDollarGlasses. For the first time, he travelled to the “Land of the Sincere Man”, as natives call Burkina Faso, and portrayed his impressions.
We arrive in Burkina Faso. I am accompanied by Renate Eden, who has supported our public relations team with great commitment for some time. Although it is late, it is still very hot.
We are picked up by Thomas Remont, French optician and country coordinator for the OneDollarGlasses in Burkina Faso. He takes us to the volunteers’ home where mango trees, papaya, bananas, pomegranate, avocados and figs line the garden.
In the morning, when we arrive at the headquarters of OneDollarGlasses, we are warmly welcomed by the team. It is the first time I am in Burkina Faso. About 30 employees, including eyeglass manufacturers, opticians, office workers are currently working on our project.
Later in the day, I work with the four eyeglass manufacturers who had developed a new bending technique at the end of last year. The new technology enables faster and more precise production.
I asked the spectacle producers to come to work on Saturday. We are still working on the new bending technique. I have noticed that some of the frames in the warehouse have to be recorrected. Currently there are around 6,000 ready-made spectacle frames in stock. Dafrassin, who is responsible for warehousing and quality control, immediately gets to work.
I am also giving a course to the optics team on Saturday morning. We talk about some changes in the eye test and practice it on ourselves.
At noon, the members of the optics team ask to have a conversation with me about being paid more money. I declare that this is not possible, if the team does not sell more glasses. Together, we consider different ways to reach even more people with glasses and thus increase the sales figures.
In the evening, we meet Andrea from AMPO, our partner organisation in Burkina Faso for almost 4 years.
We drive out to a village near Ouagadougou. It takes more than half an hour until we finally get out of the city area. Everywhere there is plastic waste, it is very dusty and very hot (over 40° Celsius in the shade).
It is Palm Sunday. Everywhere we see people with palm branches and crosses made out of palm branches. We meet the boss of the bosses. He rules over about 50 village chiefs. He is very enthusiastic about our pattern glasses, in fact, he doesn’t want to take them off at all.
All day, he sits on his wooden chair and holds an audience for the people who come and visit him. He is escorted by two older men with a gun. The Chief tells us, that he has 10 wives and about 50 children. We can even visit his home.
There we learn from one of his wives how the local beer is brewed. Together with the Chief, we agree that we will host a large outreach in his region in about a month’s time. He is willing to support us and will talk to his village leaders.
Outreach in a school on the outskirts of Ouagadougou with many orphans. The headmaster of the school welcomes us. He is very happy about our visit and is accompanying us all day.
Our team hangs up the visual test panels. We introduce our project in the first class, explaining to the children how the visual test works. Afterwards, they are tested in groups of 10.
None of the children had ever done a vision test before. Some of the teachers are also very glad that they can get cheap glasses from us.
Already at 10 o’clock in the morning it is so hot that you can hardly stand it outside. Hot sand and dust blows into my face. There are plastic bags everywhere. In between there are
goats, donkeys, and children playing. Nobody is bothered. This is also noticeable among the employees: No one is disturbed by the garbage on the sales table – only when I point out, the garbage is tied up.
Lunch break: Every child has a pot with rice and beans every day. For many parents and children, the free meal is a great incentive for children to go to school.
I ask a group of children: “Who of you likes math?” Many children raise their hands. When I ask the same question about French, history and science, the children raise their hands enthusiastically. Almost all children seem to go to school with great enthusiasm.
First meeting with our new country Director Bourahima. He is currently working for another organisation and will take over the management of the OneDollarGlasses in Burkina Faso from mid-June on. He poses many questions – clear structures and guidelines are important to him. He is very friendly with the staff. I am sure that he will lead our project well.
Therese, who collects footage for us in Burkina Faso, and Renate are talking to current clients.
They have specifically invited people from different professional groups to discuss the importance of spectacles for the wearer.
Truck drivers, seamstresses, domestic workers, and female students: all of them confirm the importance of glasses for both education and work as well as for the quality of life. All were very satisfied with the price and the quality of the glasses and highly recommend us to others.
The truck driver said he was afraid that his glasses could go missing on one of his long journeys on the road – landing him in big trouble. Renate introduced him to the idea of getting another pair of glasses, as replacement spectacles.
On Thursday, he bought himself a pair of reading glasses and spare glasses, and on Friday he brought his daughter and brother, who also bought glasses for themselves. We realise that there is still a lot of potential in customer support.
In the evening we visit Souleymane. He lives in a small apartment, several families share a corridor and sanitary facilities. Souleymane has 13 brothers and sisters. When he was 5 years old, he suffered from Polio and could not walk anymore. He was greatly neglected by his family, but he still managed to achieve good marks at school.
At 23, he moved to the city and completed a 2-year apprenticeship as an accountant. Nevertheless, he did not find a job for several years. During this time, he had been able to do a little bit of small-scale work and tutoring.
He says he survived for long time under very bad living conditions on about 15 euros a month, with nearly nothing to eat. Then he heard that OneDollarGlasses was hiring. He applied for the job, and got it. He got up early every morning to ride 1,5h to work with a tricycle that he received from a foreign visitor as a child. He is not getting tired of thanking me for this big opportunity in his life.
Outreach in a training academy for 250 young priests who have lived there for seven months together with their families. Some of them have problems reading the Bible or even the songbooks. Very few among them have ever had an eye test. We start by testing them in turns.
It occurs to me that if the future priests have their own congregation, they can carry out campaigns in the community. The head of the training academy finds the idea very attractive and gives us all the contact details of his trainees. Later in the evening, we have dinner with the team. I show photos from our projects in other countries, including Malawi, Brazil and Bolivia. The team is extremely interested in how their colleagues work abroad and how it looks.
Day of departure. Early in the morning I work intensively with the spectacle producers. They have made great progress in the few days of my presence. This is followed by a final discussion with Bourahima to clarify open questions about his appointment in June.
And then a long conversation with Celestin, who was born in Rwanda and grew up as an orphan. When we sent him to Burkina Faso about two years ago, he fell in love with the country and its friendly people. Since then, Celestin has been a mainstay of our organisation in Burkina Faso. He is responsible for, among other things, the training of the opticians.
Shortly before the departure from Ouagadougou, and after waiting about 2 ½ hours for the check-in, we are happy to see an official behind the glass of the passport control wearing OneDollarGlasses. I introduce myself to him as the inventor of his glasses. After that, we almost get the impression that we are let through a little faster than our fellow passengers.
About Martin Aufmuth
As a teacher in Nuremberg, Germany, Martin Aufmuth often thought about the inequities in the world. To him, it was obvious that the only thing that sets us apart is the place of birth. And he wanted to make a change. In 2010, Martin read the book „Out of Poverty“ by Paul Polak. The underlying idea of the book: There must be glasses for people, who have to live by a dollar or less per day. This was the initial moment for Martin’s impulse to act. He did plenty of research and started experimenting in his garage at home. He did not stop until he finally held his first pair of One Dollar Glasses in his hands. Since then, Martin had made a change.