1.3 billion people live with some sort of vision impairment. 80 percent of these people are blind from something that is avoidable. Poverty levels increase in someone that is blind, as opportunities decrease. Imagine being blind. Imagine being blind in the house that you live in now, in the city that will accommodate you. Closed walls, a roof, doors to keep you safely protected inside and danger outside.
Now, take four flights (ranging from two to 11.5 hours each), and hop in a bus and head north for four hours on unpaved, bumpy, pothole ridden roads until you almost reach the border of Burkina Fasa. “Akwaba” (Welcome) to Ghana!! Now you’re in Africa. You will see the most stunning, flawless beauty in humans that you have ever seen. Perfectly symmetrical faces, studded with defined nostrils, and plump smooth lips. What gets me every time are the unavoidable piercing eyes, that the soul has half escaped from. These magnificent, humble humans live a hard life, but radiate pure love and light. This was my third time in Ghana so my love for these people is indescribable. It was my first time with the organization Himalayan Cataract Project.
HCP was founded and is committed to cure blindness worldwide. After travel and set up at the hospital we had five days to perform almost 500 cataract surgeries. This project was the largest one done by a team to date. Starting months ahead, teams went out into the villages to spread the word that we would be coming. Tests were done ahead of time to determine who would be a good candidate. Then additional testing was done at the hospital and here is the process.
In 100 degree weather with two thousand percent humidity the rooms were toasty by 7 am. The hospital we were in had buildings that were spread far apart. This made walks with the elderly, blind patients extra difficult for them. Guiding and talking to the patients that came from so many places was a treat, when each one spoke a different language. “Peequw” open and “moom” close, were on repeat as we dilated the patients eyes and prepped them for surgery. There were moments our room was overflowing with patients and other times when we just had a few at a time. With the language barrier preventing us from having full blown conversations, we decided to use music to connect us. Dancing by ourselves, with the patients, or for whichever children were hiding, kept the energy positive. We dilated eyes, danced, drank water and sweat three times what we had consumed until snack time. There’s nothing a Coca Cola, fanta or a meat pie won’t get rid of. Literally. I don’t drink soda at home but I’m always down for a coke in a foreign country. It seems to keep my tummy settled when I travel!
The morning after the cataract surgery we removed the eye patches and witnessed the joy that was felt as sight was restored! What a blessing for so many that previously felt helpless and weak. What a relief to their children, parents, loved ones and caretakers. Farmers were able to lighten the loads of family members as they went back to work. Children were able to go back to school because they no longer were a nurse. Not only were burdens lifted, but purpose and hope were reignited. Such tender moments cannot be translated through words, but only experienced in the flesh.
Interviews of cataract patients were shared as we tried to understand exactly what day to day life was like. One particularly touching story was of a woman and her husband with 6 children. Our translator explained that she could only sit all day and do nothing. If she wanted water she wasn’t able to get it as she didn’t know where it was. But the hardest aspect for her was not being able to prepare food for her six children. My eyes overflowed as I felt this woman’s pain as she was expressing this. So much pain, but what joy would follow as she would soon be able to once again care for her children.
Yes, I am grateful for the service that the team provided to my friends in Africa. But I am more grateful for the swelling that took place in my heart because of what I experienced.
There are so many incredible organizations doing good in the world, but I don’t know many that can make a bigger impact with such a small amount of money. All it takes is $25 to cover a surgery that gives somebody their eyesight back.
I left Africa with an exploding heart and enthuasiasm to keep what I felt over there, with me every day.