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River blindness (Onchocerciasis) is extremely painful and causes intense, permanent itching all over the body. A parasitic worm, transmitted by biting flies, forms nodules under the skin. When it breeds, thousands of tiny worms spread throughout the body causing excruciating itching and irreversible blindness. This disease is a daily reality to over 100 million people in the developing world even though it may seem bizarre and bordering on inconceivable to most Australians.

In many countries, the double disadvantage of poverty and disability means that sufferers are often isolated and forgotten. As well as experiencing difficulty in either seeing, hearing, walking or psychosocial well-being, disabled people are often excluded from school, access to health care, employment opportunities and even community and family activities. CBM (Christian Blind Mission) is committed to an inclusive world, where people living with disabilities in the poorest countries of the world can achieve their full potential. River blindness is just one of the many impairments that CBM actively fights worldwide. It costs just 50 cents per person to prevent river blindness.

An intrepid, dedicated man

In 1908, German pastor Ernst Christoffel travelled to south-east Anatolia (remote Turkey) and founded a home for the disabled, blind and orphaned. Beset by opposition in the political revolution of 1919 he was expelled. Undeterred, he travelled further to Iran. Between 1925 and 1928 he set up two homes for blind and otherwise disabled young people in Tebris and Isfahan. During World War II he was arrested and spent three years in detention camps. Nevertheless his will was unbroken. These humble beginnings precipitated CBM, a global organisation helping the world’s most marginalised people.

Worldwide, over 16 million people benefit from CBM's support yet there are an estimated 500 million people with disabilities living in low and middle income countries. CBM supports the provision of more than 1000 programmes in over 100 countries throughout Africa, Asia/Pacific, Europe, and Latin America. Fields of work include health care services, education, rehabilitation and inclusion services for people with disabilities. Wherever possible, the aim is to provide these services within the community, often through partner organisations who have local knowledge and resources.

The forgotten people in Haiti

CBM knows that the plight of disabled people is accentuated in times of national disaster. When an earthquake strikes in countries such as Haiti, it is the people with disabilities that are most often forgotten. Unable to scramble to safety or compete with the masses for food and water distribution, they are ignored and left to fend for themselves.

Together with their partner organisations, CBM is very active in Haiti. However, with facilities either demolished or damaged, thousands of people with disabilities already known to CBM are unable to access help. Immediately after the earthquake, mobile units with medical specialists and resources were established. Two outreach teams with the ability to consult, treat and operate were sent to some of the hardest hit areas.

CBM will be involved in the significant rebuilding phase, restoring hope to families struggling to cope with impossible living conditions. Damaged eye-care and medical facilities will be repaired and rebuilt. Health-care centres designed to treat a wide range of disabilities will be established. Rehabilitation will be a long term project. With no buildings, many children with disabilities will miss out on schooling. CBM will help care for them while their parents take time to rebuild. Earthquake proof education projects will commence. Already, ten mobile day care centres have been opened and equipped. Physical therapists and other specialists are treating children in need.

CBM and Saward Dawson

Saward Dawson has provided audit and assurance services to CBM for the past five years. Our services have included the statutory audit required by the Corporations Act, acquittals and other assurance work associated with their Ausaid funding, ACFID code of conduct review and compliance with state based fundraising requirements. We also advise on the application of new Australian accounting standards. As part of our role as auditors we meet with representatives of the board to discuss issues arising from the audit, governance and internal control improvements. Saward Dawson is recognised as experts in the audit and financial reporting requirements for not-for-profit organisations. We would be pleased to discuss any questions and issues in this area.

Ongoing crisis

We have all seen documentaries and heard accounts about how disabled people are ostracised in third world countries. Without passing judgement on why this happens, CBM is doing something significant, improving the lives of such underprivileged people. Discover how river blindness, an insidious disease, can easily be prevented or read about a multitude of other life changing projects on CBM’s website at www.cbm.org.au.

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