An optician who went to Ethiopia to test people eyes and give out unwanted glasses she had collected told reporter JON CHEETHAM about her experience.

WHEN April Dales arrived in Ethiopia she had 1,800 pairs of glasses to give away.

Prior to her trip, the 51-year-old optometrist had been collecting unwanted glasses at the Steven Harris Opticians, West Wickham High Street, where she works on a freelance basis.

In the fortnight she spent in Butajira, Ms Dales and the team from the charity Vision Aid Overseas - which sends opticians to the poorest parts of Africa - tested 2,000 pairs of eyes and dispensed all 1,800 pairs of glasses.

The team of five optomotrists and two dispensing opticians spent two weeks in the small market town - about three hours drive south from Addis Abbaba - working in a hospital which treats people for eye disease and polio.

Translated into English, the name of the hospital - Grarbet Tehadiso Mahber - means rehabilitation under the shade of the acacia tree.

The poetic name evokes something of the flavour of the town, which serves small communities of circular homesteads built from wooden poles, mud and conical thatched rooves.

These are set in a green and mountainous landscape.

And although there are plenty of lakes and rivers many of the homesteads do not have basic sanitation and water.

It is a long way from Ms Dales' home in Stambourne Way, West Wickham.

The mother-of-two said: "I spent one day at the hospital helping to organise the lab seeing patients from the local community, and observing the surgery.

"But our main function was to go on outreach clinics in the rural areas and set up sight testing equipment.

"We were greeted in these villages by several hundred people, some of whome had walked for days to see us."

As well as the terrain, communication was a further barrier to treating people in the outlying areas.

Ms Dales said: "We had to master some basic Amharic, which is the main language in Ethiopia, although we often came unstuck where a more local dialect was spoken.

"Then we called upon our local nurse colleagues and friends to help out.

"There was much fun and laughter in the clinics, and lots of smiles from our grateful patients.

"They are quiet, shy and humble people, happy to wait in line for hours to be seen."

She added: "There is high prevalence of severe short-sightedness in the population.

"The patients' lives were transformed by enabling them to see at a distance for the first time.

"This especially important for children and youngsters hoping for a good education."

"Sadly there were cases that we couldn't help where we had arrived too late and the effects of the harsh environment, poor nutrition and infection had already taken their toll on the eyesight.

"However we managed to examine over 2.000 patients on our project and supply about 1,800 pairs of glasses kindly donated by News Shopper readers and others all over the U.K."

Further information from Any donations at Dales.