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Countess of Wessex visits Qatar as part of World Sight Day

The Countess of Wessex has been in the State of Qatar on a four-day trip with the blindness prevention charity, Orbis UK, to mark the World Sight Day. The visit will also see The Countess in her role as Vice Patron of ‘Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust’, which works towards eliminating avoidable blindness, and as an international ambassador for her father-in-law’s project, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.  The visit was due to conclude on the 8th October with celebration of World Sight Day.

Orbis International is an international non-profit non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to saving sight worldwide. Orbis programs focus on the prevention of blindness and the treatment of blinding eye diseases in developing countries. Since 1982, Orbis capacity-building programs have enhanced the skills of 325,000 eye care personnel and provided medical and optical treatment to more than 23.3 million people in 92 countries.

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The Countess of Wessex during some of her earlier work with Orbis

Orbis is a founding partner, along with the World Health Organization, of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, “a worldwide concerted effort designed to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020.”

The visit is not the first time Qatar, a former British protectorate, has welcomed The Countess. Two years ago, The Countess of Wessex, as Patron of Vision 2020: The Right to Sight and Global Ambassador of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness,  undertook a visit to India and Qatar in support of that sight-saving charity. That visit welcomed The Countess on-board the unique Flying Eye Hospital – a fully equipped ophthalmic training facility with wings – when she met with senior figures to discuss avoidable blindness. Since 1982 Orbis has trained over 325,000 doctors, nurses, anaesthetists and other eye care professionals and performed over 23.3 million treatments in areas most at need.

DAY ONE

Having left London Heathrow on the morning of 5th October the Countess arrived at Hamad International Airport in the 40? heat (104?) of the State of Qatar, located on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The Countess was received by Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the State of Qatar (His Excellency Mr Nicholas Hopton). Mrs Amy Mayes is in attendance, as Lady-in-Waiting throughout the visit. Mrs Mayes was appointed as Lady-in-Waiting to Her Royal Highness on 1st June, 2011.

In the evening, The Countess, as Global Ambassador of International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, attended 2015 Inaugural Awards Ceremony and Dinner for the Qatar British Business Forum at the British Embassy in Doha. Through these awards QBBF hopes to reward business excellence and Qatari partnering in the British Community.

The Qatar British Business Forum (QBBF) was established in 1992 as a forum for business people to meet on a regular basis with the objective of exchanging views and opinions about existing and potential business opportunities in Qatar in general, and in particular on how best to promote trade between the United Kingdom and Qatar.

DAY TWO

The first full day of HRH’s stay in Qatar started with a visit to His Exellency the Prime Minister and Interior Minister of Qatar – Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani. The Countess and the Prime Minister discussed the issue of avoidable blindness.

Later, The Countess visited the Qatar Charity headquarters in Doha in her capacity as Global Ambassador of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. HRH’s visit marked the launch of ‘These Hands’ – campaign to raise $1m (4,077,138 QAR) to reduce childhood blindness in Bangladesh.

Qatar Charity is a leading Gulf-origin nongovernmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to carrying out humanitarian and development programs to fight global poverty by working in partnership with vulnerable communities regardless of faith, race, gender or political beliefs. Qatar Charity enables people to survive, recover and rebuild their lives while also empowering them to become self-sufficient through practical knowledge, focused expertise and innovative solutions.

‘These Hands’ has been developed in partnership with blindness prevention charity Orbis UK. Orbis will implement the project and has operated blindness prevention services in Bangladesh for over 15 years, where blindness is a major public health issue. Qatar Charity will promote the campaign and administer all donations.

There are 7.4 million people in Bangladesh who are blind or visually impaired, of which 1.4 million are children. Cataract is the most common cause of blindness there: around 5,000 children are diagnosed each year. Cataract is easily treated with surgery, yet rural areas of Bangladesh are hard to reach and communities can find it extremely hard to access the right treatment. In addition, there aren’t enough experienced surgeons to perform the surgery, which makes the situation worse.

Florence Branchu, Head of Partnerships Middle East, Orbis UK said: “We are delighted to be partnering with Qatar Charity on this urgent fundraising campaign which will literally transform the lives of thousands of children in Bangladesh. We are looking forward to the people of Qatar getting behind the campaign. It’s easy to get involved, simply text ‘eye’ and then 92133 for QR 25, 92632 for QR 50 or 92642 for QR 100 and save a child’s sight!”

Mr. Youssef Bin Ahmed Al Kuwairi, CEO of Qatar Charity Said: “QC is honoured to implement this campaign with Orbis UK which has a long experience in fighting blindness.  Such partnership demonstrates QC’s wish to reinforce co-operation, co-ordination and partnership with international humanitarian organisations to implement distinguished projects and programs worldwide. QC is also interested in this project because it cares about children and their health, and because it has a field office in Dhaka. We hope this is only the beginning of a bigger future co-operation between us and Orbis.”

Luncheon was hosted by the Qatar British Business Forum (QBBF), during which The Countess was a guest speaker. In her speech she highlighted the role of Corporate philanthropy, “…..as more than an afterthought, but as being part of a core mission in QBBF efforts to grow business, engage employees and connect with customers.”

The QBBF website says: “Over the years Her Royal Highness has drawn much attention to eradicating avoidable blindness, through her visits to the region, and has helped drive the plans forward through working closely with the organisations, and many youth and community events”.

The Countess of Wessex, then spent the afternoon visiting the Qatar Assistive Technology Centre, where she was able to see some of the latest technology available for people with disabilities in Qatar, during a visit to MADA.

MADA is a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting people with disabilities to the world of information and communication technology. MADA was established by the Supreme Council for Information and Communication Technology in June 2010 as a public private partnership with Qtel, Vodafone Qatar, Qatar National Bank, and Microsoft.

DAY THREE

Today, 6th October 2015, has been the penultimate day of The Countess’s visit. The day started with a private meeting with Her Highness Sheikha Moza. Her Highness is the second of the three wives of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, former Emir of the State of Qatar. Unlike many other monarchical wives in the Middle East, Sheikha Mozah has been a high-profile figure in her nation’s politics and society, actively involved in Qatar’s government. She was a driving force behind Education City and Al Jazeera Children’s Channel. She has become known for her personal style, customising haute couture designs to fit Qatari modesty rules.

The Countess then went on to visit Doha College, one of the oldest British curriculum schools in Qatar providing a world class education for 1914 students, between the ages of 3 and 18, who represent over 72 nationalities. The Countess spent approximately an hour talking to students and staff whilst viewing display boards and photographs of the student adventures.

HRH, praised the efforts of students and teachers at Doha College taking part in the International Duke of Edinburgh Awards during a visit to the school’s Al Waab campus. In Doha College, the Duke of Edinburgh International Award is run by teachers Mr Brian Kerr and Mrs Myra Croker. The school’s vision is to be one recognised as one of the leading international schools in the world. It was introduced by Doha College in Qatar in 1998 and has 155 students participating at a Gold, Silver or Bronze level this year.

“Doha College was the first school in Qatar to introduce the Duke of Edinburgh International Award and we have had more than 2500 students complete the programme to date. We are extremely proud of our students’ achievements and honoured to have Her Royal Highness recognise their efforts.”

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award works with over 300,000 young people every year, helping them to develop skills for life and work.

HRH The Countess of Wessex was accompanied by Jacqueline Lawson-Smith Deputy British Ambassador to Qatar, who said: “It is a great privilege to have Her Royal Highness here in Qatar as part of her charity work with Orbis UK and I am delighted that the students and staff at Doha College have had the opportunity to meet her”.

“I know that some of the Doha College students who are participating in the Silver and Gold Levels of the Duke of Edinburgh Award have spent time volunteering to help communities in less fortunate countries around the world. This is highly commendable and certainly worthy of the recognition by Her Royal Highness, who is committed to promoting a culture of voluntary work among young people around the globe.”

During lunchtime HRH visited Her Excellency Sheikha Mayas at the Museum of Islamic Art. Her Excellency is Chairperson of Qatar Museums, Doha Film Institute and Reach Out to Asia.

The Museum of Islamic Art represents Islamic art from three continents over 1,400 years. MIA is the flagship of Qatar Museums which, under the leadership of its Chairperson H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is transforming the State of Qatar into a cultural capital of the Middle East.

Afterwards, The Countess attended an afternoon tea with the Qatar Business Women Association (website under reconstruction), which was established in year 2000 to enhance women’s contribution to the economic activity which constitutes a real gain both to Qatari women and the society at large.

Mrs Hopton said: “I was delighted to host such a vibrant and interesting afternoon that gave HRH The Countess of Wessex the opportunity to meet with such a range of inspiring Qatari women and to celebrate the achievements of the Qatari Businesswomen Association. HRH discussed a number of topics, including how to increase the number of women in business in Qatar, and how to promote a culture of volunteering amongst young people.”

Mrs. Natra Saeed, Board Member of the Qatari Businesswomen Association thanked Mrs. Hopton for hosting this afternoon tea and said: “It’s an honour and pleasure to welcome HRH the Countess of Wessex to Qatar, we, women of Qatar in general and the Qatari Businesswomen Association in particular are keen to build and maintain bridges with the international community as we believe this generates opportunities for us and for the future generations.”

The Qatari Businesswomen Association was established in 2000 to enhance women’s contribution to the economic activity which constitutes a real gain both to Qatari women and the society at large. The Qatari Businesswomen Association is chaired by H.E Sheikha Al Anood Bint Khalifa Bin Hamad Al-Thani, and managed by a number of prominent Businesswomen who have a history of success in many businesses in different sectors that they work in or manage. QBWA organises a number of activities, conferences and Programmes that support Qatari women and has played a distinguished role in enhancing women contribution to push the economic wheel towards the strategic growth that Qatar is witnessing today, and in line with the wise vision that the government has set.

During this tour, The Countess of Wessex has spoken movingly of the plight of blind and visually-impaired people across the world.

Addressing the Seeing Is Believing gala dinner, she said: “I have seen sight being restored and I can promise you there are few things more rewarding in this world than seeing someone step from the dark into the light.

“There is no smile quite like the one that is returned from eyes that once more can see.”

“Our aim to eradicate avoidable blindness is more than just a pipe dream it is a tangible goal.”

Speaking as patron of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to mark World Sight Day tomorrow, She said, “39 million people have sight problems but that 80 per cent of blindness is preventable.”

“In 2014, Orbis alone provided treatment to 6.1 million people thereby giving them the chance of education or employment.”

“This all helps enormously when we talk about lifting countries out of poverty, because if you can see you can work, if you can see you can learn.”

On the final day of her visit, The Countess was due to be given a tour of the new £11 billion Hamad International Airport and launch Orbis UK’s fundraising partnership with Qatar Airways before returning to London on a scheduled flight.

Photo credit: Orbis- giving the gift of sight via Fickr

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