For the longest time, they’ve been called the window to the soul. That’s because other people look into our eyes to read our emotions and gauge our personality. But, have you ever stopped to consider the relationship you have with your own eyes? When you look in the mirror do you see them as the windows to the soul you know best: yourself? Do you make them up with mascara and eye shadow? How do they portray your innermost feelings? But these miraculous organs are so much more than a window to the soul. Think of what they do for us on a daily basis.
From the second they open in the morning until they finally close at night, they are hard at work as we navigate our way through all the tasks of our daily routine as parents, workers, commuters, breadwinners.
Now consider the daily routine of somebody whose eyes are not working, somebody who has gone needlessly blind because of a preventable condition. Or somebody whose sight could be restored if only they could access the right health services. All over sub-Saharan Africa, there are people like Angela Sankisa – plunged into the darkness of blindness when, actually, her sight could be restored. Unlike many others, her story has a happy ending.
Angela is a grandmother of five living in a small village some 75km away from the nearest hospital. At one point, the milky curtains of cataracts closed over her sight, leaving her in a situation that would become very challenging on so many levels. Suddenly, she could no longer take care of her grandchildren. Now, they had to look after her! All that this entailed – cooking for her, washing her, giving her medication – made her feel very guilty. “It felt very bad for me and I did not feel okay. I felt so bad having to rely on others for everything,” she said.
Fast forward to ten months later: Angela’s grandchildren took her on a bicycle all the way to the health clinic where an Orbis Africa eye clinic outreach day was underway.
Orbis Africa covered the costs of the operation, as well as food for Angela and her family as they stayed with her in the local shelter to recover from the operation. Each eye was done separately on two different days (as that is safer) and her sight was completely restored!
For Angela, it was a happy ending. For many others, it is not – simply because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to access the help that is at hand. Unfortunately, people often labour under the misconception that blindness is neither preventable nor treatable. This is completely untrue, and programmes that target blindness and the conditions that cause it, change the lives of individuals, families, communities and the country at large.
With many other health issues, those who are well might feel compelled to help those who aren’t. However, when people view blindness only as a permanent condition and not one that can be prevented or treated, we turn away from those who suffer. We take their impairment as a basic reality of life, just as we take our own ability to see entirely for granted. That’s why it is important for people from all walks of life to make sure that everyone in their family’s vision is taken seriously.
This means regular eye health check-ups, taking anyone symptoms seriously, and seeking help as soon as possible if there is a sign that something is not right. Especially when it comes to children and elderly parents or grandparents: is it the duty of those in the prime of their lives to make sure that those who are most vulnerable get the help they need.
As a personal challenge over the next few days, take special note of your eyes and what you use them for. Note these down on a piece of paper, or even just think about them! While you do that, try imagine how your life would be different if you were suddenly plunged into the world that blindness puts you in. Then ask yourself: Do I take my sight for granted? How could I help others get their sight back?
As Director of Communications and Fundraising at Orbis Africa, Helen White has the enviable job of initiating and driving marketing and communications strategies while overseeing the fundraising needed to support programmes in Africa. Orbis Africa’s vision to see a continent where no one is avoidably blind is ambitious but absolutely achievable through funding, strategic partnerships and awareness. Follow Orbis Africa on Facebook & Twitter