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Aitana Modolell: “We look to improving the eyesight of those with least resources”

Last Thursday, March 18, Forbes Magazine published an interview with Aitana Modolell, the soul and driving force behind Etnia Barcelona Foundation. Below you will find the interview in full, offering an opportunity to learn more about the organisation and its short and long-term goals.

Modolell (Etnia Barcelona Foundation): “We look to improving the eyesight of those with least resources”

Aitana Modolell leads the Etnia Barcelona Foundation in its quest to help those most in need of adequate visual health.

The organisation seeks to improve the eyesight of those in greatest need and reaches out to them, to help improve their quality of life.

We spoke to her about the goals of the Foundation, her plans for its future and the impact that poor visual health can have on the quality of life of an individual.

The Foundation was established with the clear aim of permitting the most disadvantaged communities access to visual health. How did you manage it?

Our purpose is to contribute to ensuring those with least resources obtain access to visual health and, if necessary, optical correction.

To achieve this, first we carry out a detailed study of the places in which we intend to operate, and then start to design our programmes, built basically around two main strategic lines. One is an essentially regional approach: our “Looking into your eyes” project which exclusively addresses the needs of minors of between 6 and 17 years of age.  We contact the minors, either directly through local town halls, or by way of what we call here in Catalonia, our “Open Centres”.

One Friday a month, the Foundation team goes out to the Centres to give the kids eye tests. Whenever we find a minor in need of glasses, we offer them the choice of a broad range of eyewear. Whenever we find children in need of some kind of visual therapy, ophthalmological appointments or even surgery, the Foundation will take care of all the formalities and ensure the child access to the pertinent treatment, at no cost whatsoever to the family. To date, we have visited over 40 different Centres.

The second line along which we work is international cooperation: here we work hand in hand with development cooperation projects, such as the Santa Yalla Community Optician, which operates in the Ziguinchor region of Senegal. In terms of international cooperation, we also offer humanitarian aid to people in refugee camps: to date we have worked at refugee camps in Tindouf and on Lesbos.

How does the Foundation go about finding skilled professionals willing to work with it?

When we reach out and explain our programmes, we always do so in the hope of establishing alliances with other organisations already working in the field or the region in which we wish to develop our projects. That way we avoid any kind of duplication and allow greater impact to be achieved by working hand in hand with them. We passionately believe in networking. At other times we are lucky enough to be able to count on the help of professionals or students who volunteer for our projects. Up to now, our experience has been totally positive, working alongside a force of highly committed volunteers.

In all, we have attended to the needs of some 10,000 people, none of whom had ever had an eye test before. We found 22% of them in need of prescription glasses.

Since the start-up of your Foundation project in 2016, how many people have seen their eyesight corrected?

In all, we have attended to the needs of some 10,000 people, none of whom had ever had an eye test before. We found 22% of them in need of prescription glasses. That clearly indicates to us that there is still much to be done to make people aware of the importance of good visual health.

What are the mid and long-term goals that Etnia Barcelona has for the project?

With regard to our “Looking into your eyes” project, our mid-term goal is to visit all the Open Centres in the Barcelona Province and, in the long-term, all the Centres in Catalonia.

As far as our international cooperation projects are concerned, in the mid-term we aim to set up a network of community opticians in Senegal and, in the long-term, apply the same model in other countries.

As long as refugee camps continue to exist, we will maintain our visual health programmes, since these people are possibly the most vulnerable of all.

Aside from the Foundation, Etnia Barcelona is known for its great concern for all matters related to the optician. How important is eyesight to quality of life?

Quality of life in itself implies the need to guarantee good eyesight.

Of all the activities in which the Etnia Foundation has engaged, which have you found the most gratifying?

Each project goes through its own difficulties and moments of success. When you see a project develop and improve, when you see how our collective efforts keep them running from one year to the next, that fuels your will to continue. We still have a long way to go though.

Our “Looking into your eyes” project has been running for five years now and over the years we have added new features, such as, offering access to visual therapy or our tracking programme, which allows us to offer people new glasses when their prescription changes. Talking about our “community opticians” always makes me feel emotional.

For three years we organised missions to the Senegal region of Tambacounda to test the eyesight of primary and secondary school students and of people at health centres. Our experience gave us greater insight into what things were really like on the ground there and of the need to work to improve the visual health of the local population. In turn, that led us to develop our “Community Optician” project, which seeks to improve the visual health of the population by training health care deliverers from the local health centres and hospitals and providing quality prescription glasses to the whole population at affordable prices.

It has been a long and intense process, working shoulder to shoulder with our Senegalese partner, the women’s platform the Regional Union of Santa Yalla. However, today we are delighted to be able to say that we have a wonderful optician up and running, equipped with a marvellous, highly professional workshop and a team of trained, empowered women who run both the optician and the workshop.

Do you believe that a want of access to such care could greatly affect people’s lives and if so, in what way?

No doubt about it! In fact, the WHO, in its report on blindness and visual impairment, says that worldwide, one of the main causes of impaired sight is uncorrected refractive errors which, if left untreated, may eventually lead to blindness. Without reaching such extremes, untreated problems with peoples’ eyesight may greatly affect their school, professional, social and family lives.

What are the main pillars on which the Foundation operates?

Our work focusses on three main interlinked areas: education, health and social integration. Our goal is to be known by everyone so that anybody who, for want of financial resources, is unable to access visual health services can do so and thus guarantee their proper visual health.