This blog is written by Peggy O’Neill, HKI’s Vice President of Development, Individual Giving.
“I’d tremble too, if a stranger was about to put a sharp scalpel to my eyelid,” was all I could think as I watched Somoe Abdalah prepare for trichiasis surgery. I walked up to her and gently took her hand in mine. Tears immediately began to roll down her cheeks, and soon after, I was crying too.
I didn’t expect to get emotional as I got in a jeep that morning to observe HKI’s Trachoma program in a remote Tanzanian village, but there was something about seeing this woman, my own age, lying on an exam table awaiting surgery that particularly moved me. She was trying so hard to be brave, but her trembling showed her fear.
Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of preventable blindness in the world, resulting from a bacteria that is prevalent in poor communities with limited access to adequate sanitation and clean water. Trichaisis, the last stage of trachoma, causes the eyelid to turn inward. When this happens, the eyelashes scrape the eye’s surface, causing unbearable pain and eventually blindness.
In order to help people like Somoe, HKI implements the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy (Surgery-Antibiotics-Face cleanliness-Environmental improvements) to prevent this disease.
On the day I arrived, several dozen children and adults patiently waited in line for a free eye exam — the very first for almost all of them. After each person was screened by the HKI-trained health worker, those requiring surgery were directed to a makeshift operating room across the courtyard. Some were clearly in distress, covering one or both eyes to soften the pain of trichiasis.
Twenty minutes after I took her hand, Somoe’s surgery was complete. We were both still crying, so I handed Somoe a tissue to dry her tears. They don’t have tissues in places like rural Tanzania, and I was reminded again how many “things” we have in our world, that people like Somoe don’t have in their world.
Shortly after the surgery was completed, she sat on the back of her husband’s bicycle and I watched while he pedaled them both back home. I later learned she was from a nearby village called Kiromba Chini, and had been living with the constant pain of trichiasis for years. I can hardly imagine the pain she must have silently endured and couldn’t help but think about the huge difference her surgery would make in the rest of her life.
Somoe will be able to better care for her children. Instead of living each moment of her life in excruciating pain, she will be able to focus on her family’s future. Rather than enduring the pain of each lacerating blink, she will now see each day clearly.
On this day when we honor the mothers in our lives, I look at my picture of Somoe being pedaled away from the HKI clinic back home, to her children. I will never see her again. But she will live in my heart and memory as an example of what people like you and I can do by choosing to care.
In honor of a mother in your life, or simply in recognition of the difference we made for a mother like Somoe, please share your kindness and good fortune with HKI and make the most generous contribution you can, today. So many mothers and children are waiting.