Today I want to share some of the amazing work being done by Sightsavers and the life-changing impact of sight-saving surgeries. Cataract, a clouding of the eye's lens, is the number one cause of blindness in the world. Although most of us associate it with older people, in developing countries it's a huge problem for children too and if not caught in time sight loss can be permanent.
Surgery to treat cataract takes only 20 minutes and costs just £30 for an adult and £50 for a child. The Million Miracles campaign which launched this week is aiming to raise £30 million to fund sight-restoring procedures by 2017.
To really involve people in the campaign, Sightsavers are sharing the story of Winesi, who has been losing his sight for 12 years and has been completely blind for two, meaning that he has never seen his youngest grandson.
On Wednesday 8th October 2014 a Google+ hangout from Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Malawi will follow Winesi before, during and after surgery. Viewers will be able to watch the incredible surgical team as they perform the operation (it won't be gory!) and then on the following day, the 9th October, viewers can join him as the bandages come off and he sees clearly for the first time in years.
The amazing story will unfold from the 1st October under the hashtag #seethemiracle across many different social media platforms:
“I imagine what my wife looks like, but I can’t remember”
The road to Kalima is undulating, incredibly bumpy and full of ditches and boulders
to swerve round. We drive for 40 minutes up some bone-jarringly bumpy roads, then
park the car and walk for about a mile through farm land until we hear rushing water,
and make our way towards a fast-flowing river.
“Mr Winesi lives up there.” We’re pointed towards the top of a big hill – in the bright
light we can see the silhouette of an old man moving hesitantly around the outside of
a house, feeling his way with his hands. This is the man we’ve come to meet. We
take off our shoes, roll up our trousers and wade across the river.
Winesi March is happy to talk to us, and as we chat a few of his family members
gather around, including his wife Namaleta. He’s 69 years old, he says – or 70; he’s
not entirely sure. He’s respectfully known by everyone here as Winesi. He has a
contagious chuckle, and we instantly warm to him. But it’s apparent that the last few
years have been tough for him, and for his family.
His sight has been declining for more than a decade. Three years ago he could still
make out the path and get around, and was working on his farm planting and hoeing.
Two years ago his vision got a lot worse, and he’s been totally blind since then.
He can’t work anymore – occasionally he forces himself to try, but it usually ends in
injury (the day we meet him, he has an injured finger from tripping on a tree stump).
His typical day used to be full of activity; now when he wakes he waits for his family
to help him, and then he sits on his mat. Sometimes he changes location, but he
needs help to move the mat. If he needs the toilet, or wants to prepare food, he
needs someone to guide him.
There are times when everyone is out and Winesi doesn’t have peace of mind.
Losing his sight has knocked his confidence and he can’t relax because he worries
that if someone came to assault him he wouldn’t know. “I am scared of being
attacked and there not being anyone to protect me.”
This isn’t his only fear. He worries that there’s nobody to support the family, and
feels he should be able to provide for them. He misses his role as breadwinner.
Namaleta and the children do what they can, but it’s a struggle, and when the food
they have harvested currently is finished, he doesn’t know what they’ll do to get by.
A lot of extra pressure is on Namaleta, who now shoulders the responsibility of work
and keeps the household running. “I relied on him so much, to provide for the family,
but now he can’t do anything. I have to do everything - finding food, making sure the
children go to school. It’s painful having to do both roles. I would be so excited and
so relieved to get back to normal life.”
Winesi misses being able to see the faces of his family. He thinks he hasn’t seen his
wife’s face properly for about 12 years. “I imagine what she looks like but I can’t remember that well.” He also has an 18-month-old grandson, Lucas, who he’s never
seen. When we ask him how he’d feel if his sight was restored, he laughs and tells
us he’d take up his hoe and jump up and down: “When I have sight I will run to town
and buy my wife a new dress and shoes so she will look beautiful!”
He’s been waiting a while for cataract surgery. Madalitso, the ophthalmic clinical
officer who met him while on an outreach visit to the area, advised him to go for
screening at the hospital a few months ago, but he couldn’t make it because
Namaleta was sick and he couldn’t get to the screening without assistance. He’s not
nervous about the operation; he’s desperate to get back to work and is excited about
the possibility of seeing the faces of his family again.
The sense of excitement among Winesi’s family and our team is infectious – it’s
amazing to think that after the struggles he’s had in the past few years, an operation
on 8 October that might take as little as 10 minutes could change everything.
If you would like to support the campaign you can make a donation here - donate to A Million Miracles. £30 can pay for a cataract operation to restore someone's sight.