Interview: TV presenter Diane Louise Jordan discusses the See the Way appeal
Diane Louise Jordan recently returned from Rwanda where she watched a 10-year-old boy undergo a single operation that has changed his life forever.
Former Blue Peter presenter Diane has been to Rwanda to see first-hand how a series of projects to help prevent blindness are assisting people in the East African country.
The four-day visit – she returned to the UK last weekend (February 22-23) – was organised by international disability charity Christian Blind Mission (CBM), of which Diane – a Cambridgeshire resident – is a passionate supporter.
She was accompanied on the trip by her 12-year-old grandson, Preston. CBM’s See the Way campaign, supported by the Cambridge Independent, is designed help people with sight problems in the world’s poorest places.
Donations will improve access to sight-saving surgery, glasses and support, enabling people to attend school, read and write, get around safely and support themselves and their families.
From February 12 until May 12, all public donations to the See the Way appeal will be doubled by the UK government, matching up to £2m.
Diane’s visit to Rwanda coincided with the launch of a new CBM project, which uses funds raised as part of last year’s See the Way appeal.
With the help of generous supporters – including Cambridge Independent readers – See the Way 2019 raised more than £1.8m, including £845,000 of match funding from the UK government.
This match funding will support a new three-year project in partnership with the CBM-supported Kabgayi Eye Unit, located 25 miles southwest of the capital city Kigali, to deliver more sight-saving services to people in rural areas of Rwanda.
“The trip was amazing,” said Diane, who presents Songs of Praise, “and it’s been such a privilege to be part of this experience. What we’ve witnessed is so precious, that I think we’re all – even the camera person – really evangelical about this now.”
The trip had a bigger impact on Diane, 59, than she had expected. “I’ve been a supporter of CBM for a while,” she explained, adding: “I’ve had personal experience of what it is to live without sight because my dad lost his sight.
“My mum had cataracts and in my mum’s family, they have a history of glaucoma and cataracts.”
Diane said that glaucoma particularly affects black people of African or Caribbean descent, and hopes to also get that information across to people matching that description here in the UK.
“For people like me, it’s really important for them to get the message that they can have a life of limited sight if they don’t go and check their eyes out,” she said. “If you are of black African or Caribbean descent, and over 40, you get free eyesight tests – or for a small amount of money.”
Diane points out that it is not that simple, of course, for people in poorer parts of the world. “I wanted to say to a British audience, ‘Look at what other people, who just happen to be in the wrong postcode, have to deal with and what they would give to have the opportunity that you have to put your eyesight right’.
“The tragedy about this is that people needn’t be blind. It’s so easy to put right and so cheap – I think it’s about £100 per eye to have the cataract operation – and I think that’s one of the things that really struck a chord with my grandson.
“We met a little boy called Etienne who’s 10-years-old – my grandson’s 12 so he was able to really compare directly his life with this little boy’s life – and he had lived all of his life without sight, feeling like a burden and being told he was a burden to their community.”
Etienne underwent the operation during Diane’s time in Rwanda. “We went to see them at home, made friends, and then Etienne travelled to the hospital,” said Diane. “We went to the hospital with him – by this stage we were all very close-knit – and I was with Etienne in the waiting room.
“I had the privilege of being with him while his surgery was taking place – I witnessed every second of it – and then his dad, me and Preston were there when he woke up from the anaesthetic. Then the next day we came back for the bandages to be removed.
“The doctor had said to us that because Etienne had come to him so late – the cut-off period really for success is five years old – he was telling us not to have high expectations.”
Happily, Etienne’s sight was restored. “On the final day of our trip we went back to the village to see him with his family and it was such a jubilant day for everybody, we were all hugging and happy,” says Diane, “and he was great, really full of life. And there was a great bond between him and Preston by that stage.”
Diane added: “One day we saw a little boy who couldn’t see and 24 hours later, he had sight – that’s stunning. And all for the price of £200 for two eyes.
“I don’t know what better value you can get out of £200 than that.”
A 2019 World Health Organisation report found that more than one billion people worldwide are living with vision impairment because they do not get the care they need for conditions like short and far sightedness, glaucoma and cataracts.
For those living in poverty, losing sight can also mean losing the chance to go to school, to live independently and to earn a living.
Find out more or donate by calling 0800 5677000 or visit seetheway.org.
Until May 12, 2020, all public donations to CBM’s See the Way appeal will be doubled by the UK government, up to £2million.