"Now my new life has come"
Sight is being restored to people like Sao Phuen, in central Cambodia, because of The Foundation's work through AusAID's Avoidable Blindness Initiative (ABI).
Fifty-eight-year-old Phuen has seven children. Her family is amongst the poorest in their village in Kampong Chhnang Province. She supports her children by catching fish, feeding chickens, collecting water lilies, and laboring in the rice fields.
Over two years, Phuen’s vision had gotten worse and worse. She felt very worried about who would take care of her family if she went completely blind.
Phuen said: “I couldn’t recognise people and animals even just one metre away from me. I had struggled to sell fish because I couldn’t see clearly. I couldn’t see the measurement numbers on a scale when selling fish, so I put my fish against a stick and sold in ‘stick’ units. I did anything I could, like collecting water lilies and catching frogs to support my seven children.”
Worries about being able to take care of her children prompted Phuen to attend an eye screening clinic in her village. It was conducted by community health workers trained in primary eye care by The Foundation, through the ABI.
The health workers discovered that Phuen could only see hand movements with her left eye, and for one metre with her right eye. They explained that only cataract surgery could restore her sight. She was worried about the cost, but they told her the surgery would be free.
“I was scared for surgeries, but I decided to go for it,” said Phuen. “If I stayed in blindness, I would have nothing to eat. I could generate more income after I can see. Otherwise, I would lose my entire income if I went blind completely. Now my new life has come. They provided me with free transportation [to Kampong Chhnang Provincial Eye Unit]. I was told my surgery was supported by Australian aid. In operating theatre, I was scared at first but the surgery was easy, simple and fast. I didn’t feel much pain.”
Fully recovered, Phuen is now back at work and able to continue looking after her children. “One month after surgery, I got hired to work in rice fields,” she said. “I earned 150,000 riels (approx $US25-30). I am booked to do harvesting in November which will earn some more income and three sacks of rice.”
“I can make a better income with my sight restored, as I am capable to do more work. I also encouraged my sister to go for eye surgery, and she did. Now she is also capable of working independently. I am glad I made the right decision at the right time. Thanks to Australians for saving my sights. Without their support I couldn’t continue my daily work. The surgery has not just restored my sight, it restored my life.”
Partners in The Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium are: The Fred Hollows Foundation, CBM Australia, ICEE, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Foresight Australia, Royal Institute of Death and Blind Children, Vision Australia and the Centre for Eye Research Australia.
The objective of the Australian Government's aid program, delivered by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), is to assist developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia's national interest.
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