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Former chief laments Ebsar Foundation's deteriorating services
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 19 - 08 - 2016

EBSAR Foundation in Jeddah has been playing a significant role in meeting the requirements of the visually impaired people including children, providing vision tests to kindergarten and primary school pupils and extending consultancy services to NGOs.
However, there have been reports in the local media claiming that the foundation's services are perpetually deteriorating even though its official spokesman dismissed the allegations as unfounded.
"Until recently Ebsar was considered a model of excellence in providing services to the visually impaired in the entire Middle East region," said Mohammed Bello, a former secretary-general of the foundation and a member of its board of directors, while speaking to Al-Hayat newspaper.
It had received a certificate of excellence from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, an affiliate of the World Health Organization.
However, for the last 11 months, Ebsar was not meeting the needs of the blind like before, Bello said.
A number of people who were relying on the services of the foundation have expressed their dismay over its dwindling services and programs. It has stopped the campaign to fight blindness, employment training, vision tests and supplying life requirements for the visually impaired.
The foundation is also accused of not coping with the latest developments in the field and not supporting the rights of the visually impaired, especially to get jobs in the private sector.
Parents of the visually impaired children have expressed their disappointment over the halt in the foundation's vital services, saying it would have negative impact on their children's lives.
"I have received several calls from relatives of the visually impaired to receive advice and other assistance. Many NGOs were also looking for consultancy services," Bello said.
"Being a visually impaired individual, I myself am a victim of the foundation's move to cut its activities and services," he said, adding that he was forced to get some supplies from the US after the foundation stopped providing such requirements.
Bello's eldest sister required regular vision checkups, optical aids and special training for employment. "People are forced to purchase handy enlargers in a haphazard manner from the US without checking the present condition of their eyesight," he pointed out. The foundation's vision test clinic has stopped functioning.
Bello expressed his disappointment at the poor state of affairs at the foundation. "I am deeply saddened by the foundation's decision to stop its campaign to check the eyesight of schoolchildren, citing a lack of funds," he said.
It was one of the successful campaigns carried out by the Kingdom in the past as it helped test eyesight of 21,472 pupils in kindergartens and primary schools within a short span. It covered students of 64 schools in Jeddah and treated 600 children. Tests have shown that many of these children either required surgical operation or glasses to protect their eyesight.
The foundation trained 560 volunteers to conduct early ophthalmic diagnosis. "All these programs were carried out at a meager expense of not more than SR1.5 million," he said, adding that the training program would contribute to conducting tests on more schoolchildren.
"This campaign should have been continued in order to test the eyesight of 275,000 children of kindergartens and primary schools in the Kingdom and other GCC countries and provide necessary treatment to children having viewing difficulties," Bello said.
The campaign also aimed at training 1,250 teachers to conduct early eyesight diagnosis. All these programs can be carried out by spending not more than SR12 million, he pointed out.
He opposed the appointment of an unqualified woman as the foundation's head. The Social Development Center in Jeddah had sent a circular asking the foundation not to appoint the woman until she receives the ministry's endorsement. "But the board tried to circumvent that decision by appointing her as acting secretary-general," he pointed out.
Bello said the foundation was carrying out the campaign to fight blindness for the last four years, benefitting 2,000 visually impaired people. It has also called off feasibility studies on the "Ebsar charitable village," which was a strategic project.
He also referred to the collapse of Noor Optical Services, which was established for operation and management of the foundation's technical and professional activities, provide consultancy services and develop eye care endeavors at national and regional levels. A part of the company's profits was to be set aside to finance the foundation's activities.
Bello sent a letter to the Social Development Center in Jeddah to correct the foundation's administrative system on the basis of its bylaw and put an end to its deteriorating situation. When the center did not take any corrective measure, he sent another letter saying he would not be responsible for the negative consequences of the center's inaction.
The foundation's board was annoyed and held Bello responsible for its poor performance. They also stopped payment of his financial dues as a visually impaired person. "I have shown great interest in the progress of the foundation being myself a beneficiary and an internationally known activist in the field."
Bello claims that the present management lacked technical and professional experience to deal with the foundation's programs and activities. He pointed out that a number of employees had resigned from the organization due to its poor performance. Some employees have filed lawsuits against the foundation at the labor court against its decision to stop payment of dues.
Bello also presented solutions for saving the foundation from its present state. "Everybody should cooperate to realize the foundation's noble objectives. They should work together with responsibility and give priority to the interest of the visually impaired rather than their vested interests."
The foundation should pay the dues of workers to withdraw their lawsuits, hold a general assembly meeting to tackle the crisis, review controversial appointments, form a special committee for crisis management, withhold appointment of the deputy secretary-general and ask for a report on her performance last year and set a committee for financial and human resource development.
Abdul Aziz Hafni, deputy chairman of the foundation's board of directors and its official spokesman, said irresponsible statements made by some of the foundation's beneficiaries would tarnish its image. The foundation would take legal action against those who make and publish false allegations without proof.
He said Ebsar takes care of more than 3,800 visually impaired people. "We provide rehabilitation services to the blind, provide treatment to those having weak sight and extend technology and support to provide employment training and educate the public on how to prevent blindness."
The board has approved a number of rehabilitation and training programs and spent SR50,000 to modernize its computer lab. A new Braille Sense equipment was bought at a cost of SR69,000 to train the visually impaired to read and write.
Hafni disclosed the foundation's plan to participate in the Red Sea conference by conducting a workshop on how to find out weak sight among children. "We have also participated in a number of exhibitions held at hospitals. We are seeking support from the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and private companies to carry out new programs," he told Al-Hayat.
He denied suggestions that the foundation had discontinued some of its programs. "We have not halted the employment program. It was the private companies who stopped supporting the program. We have helped 86 visually impaired people to get suitable jobs. Later they lost their jobs, causing a big hue and cry. We are now in the process of finding more jobs for this group of people. We are coordinating with Al-Rabiee Company to employ 24 visually impaired individuals. We have appointed a female employee to take care of employment issues in cooperation with the Human Resources Development Fund," Hafni said.
He said the foundation would provide all support to jobseekers in association with businessmen and women and private companies. "We have set up a register of jobseekers so that we can send them whenever a company requests employees," Hafni said.
He denied claims that the foundation stopped its campaign to test eyesight of schoolchildren. "We want to activate this campaign to educate parents on how to protect their children from losing sight," he said.

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