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How Bella’s Making a Difference

Bella Francisco

Our youngest Orbis Champion writes about her journey with visual impairment and how it has inspired her to champion vision as her personal cause. At just 12-years-old it’s amazing to see this dynamic youngster talk about changing the lives of others and leaving an impact for the better. Bake sales, spectacle collections and rallying friends and family behind her cause is just the beginning for Bella!  

My name is Bella Francisco and I am 12 years old. I go to a lovely girls’ school called Micklefield School in Cape Town, South Africa. I am in Grade 6. At our school the girls in Grade 6 each run a Social Entrepreneurship Project supporting, fundraising and creating awareness for a charity. I have always thought from a very young age “What can I do to save the world?’’ so I was very excited to be starting my journey with Orbis Africa.

Firstly let me tell you a little bit about my journey. I have had a few problems with my eyes since the age of 5. So it’s easy to understand why seeing well is a true gift. I have a lazy eye, no binocular vision, impaired vision and struggle with depth perception. It is quite a challenge as I can’t see out of my left eye very well. No binocular vision means I can’t see 3-D which took me a while to get used to. But our amazing bodies, assisted by glasses, allows us to do such amazing things. In my case they have allowed me to see the world today in 3-D.

The last thing, to top it all off, is I have a squint (strabismus) which is where my right eye can stay looking at you but my left eye will wander off to the left. This is a problem because I cannot feel it. I am going to have operation this year to try and fix this. The doctors are going to pull the eye muscles more inwards (do not worry I am asleep) and eventually it will relax and be back into place!

I began wearing a patch to cover my left eye and I wore it for 4 years. My earliest memory of having visual problems is going to get my glasses fixed. I had pinky-brown framed glasses then. I remember that the shop had a blue carpet and to my right there was a long brown counter. Above that there were 3 huge pictures on canvases of people wearing glasses. To my left there was a little square room with gigantic machines inside like printers or something like that, strange equipment and all other kinds of machines that would fix glasses. The rest of the room was covered in shelves and cabinets filled with glasses. A nice tall man walked up to us and asked ‘’How can I help you?’’ and my dad replied “Ah yes, my daughter needs to have her glasses fixed!’’ The man took my glasses and went into the machine room. I love to watch people work in that room. When the man came back he put the glasses on my face. I love when people do that.

When I heard about Orbis Africa I knew straight away that this was the charity that I wanted to support for my Social Project. I did not even hesitate. The reason that I chose them is that they support people who have eyesight problems, help girls and work in Africa. I decided to call my outreach project “Gift of Sight” for supporting Orbis Africa. During one of our classes I wrote an email to the Orbis Africa team to ask them if I could work with them… and they said YES! I was so excited! A few emails later we discussed what I wanted to do for them, and organised our first meeting.

At the meeting was the amazing Frano Loots and Helen White. They have helped me every step of the way. They began by guiding me through my first proper meeting. They listened to my ideas, asked detailed questions and helped me plan. We discussed my fundraising ideas and awareness campaign:

  • Holding a stall to sell goodies that I have created to raise funds and raise awareness
  • Speaking at my school assembly about Orbis Africa to raise awareness
  • Collecting old glasses frames
  • Conducting an online survey about eye care

Before the market day, I stood up and spoke to my school in assembly about my stall and a little bit about Orbis Africa. This helped the girls know a little bit more about my stall. I explained how Orbis Africa works across Africa to change the lives of not only adults, but especially focus on women and girls as they often struggle to access treatment. I also explained why it is so important to diagnose and treat visual problems early to ensure that every girl can become the best at what she would like to become; learning at school, getting a job and one day supporting her own children.

When my school market day arrived everyone was buzzing around excitedly trying to get ready. My stall was called “Things on a Stick”. I had bought packets, designed labels and made samples. Each label said the name of Orbis Africa so that people would remember the organisation. I created craft stick sets to make their own ballerinas, animal parks, flowers, fairy gardens and aeroplanes. I also sold sweets on a stick, marshmallow sticks, balloon stick kits, bubbles and butterflies on sticks with wands. One of the teachers even bought a set for her class (I also donated a set to her as she helped my mum collect teaching aids for a disadvantaged school). With all of my sales I handed out a brochure about Orbis Africa which had been given to me by Frano. I also spoke to each person who came to my stall about Orbis Africa. Some people even gave me a donation even when they did not buy anything. In the end I had a very good sale and especially raised awareness. I managed to sell some of my leftover stock during a break time the following week to the junior classes.

I can’t wait to begin the next part of my journey with Orbis Africa! This will be organising a collection of second hand spectacle frames at my school, which will go to people in Zambia who cannot afford to buy spectacles. I know that this is just the beginning for me; each of us can make a difference and leave a lasting impact in the world. This is my bit, but it’s not the end…

Visit Bella’s website to see what she’s up to next on her journey as Orbis Champion.

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