Special report by Brian Doolan, CEO
Kenya: Rose has never seen the face of her youngest daughter Simila – a beautiful, laughing little girl who never leaves her mother’s side.
Simila wants to be a doctor
That's a big dream for a ten-year-old girl, who lives in a thatch hut, a ten-hour drive from Nairobi in northern Kenya.
Simila's mother Rose had never seen the face of the beautiful, laughing little girl who stroked her mum's hand as she told me of her dream to become a doctor.
Simila loves school. Her face lights up when she talks about it.
"But many days I cannot go to school," she told me.
"If mum is sick or if she has to go somewhere, I stay home to help her."
It's a common story. In the developing world many children, and most often girls, miss out on education to care for a blind relative.
I first saw Simila in the grounds of the Baragoi District Hospital, an impoverished outpost of the Kenyan Ministry of Health.
She was holding her mother's hand and leading her carefully over the rocky ground towards the clinic. When they entered the gates they joined a crowd of about 100 others. They had all heard some doctors were coming who could make blind people see again.
Many suffered from cataract, a clouding of the eye that can be treated with a relatively simple operation to insert a tiny plastic intraocular lens (IOL).
I sat on a rough wooden bench beside Dr James Maina, a Kenyan eye surgeon trained by The Foundation, as he examined Rose.
"We in Africa owe Fred Hollows so much," he told me. "He taught us that restoring sight is possible."
James shone a weak torch light into Rose's right eye. "See here, Brian," he said to me. "This eye has very heavy scarring. This eye is too far gone." I was glad that Simila's English was too basic to understand what he was saying. But she could see him shake his head.
James moved the torch to the left eye. "It is very bad," he said. "There is scarring and there is cataract. But here, at the top of the eye, perhaps there is enough clear area. Maybe I can do something."
We looked at the little girl holding tight to her mother's arm. James pondered a moment and then said, "I think we should try."
Rose had her operation and, when I left, she and Simila were waiting. Tomorrow the bandages would come off and we would know if James was able to "do something".
Back at the hospital the next morning James peeled off the bandage and wiped Rose's eye clean.
How many fingers am I holding up?" James asked. Simila's eyes were locked on her mother's face.
Rose concentrated. "One," she replied. And he was.
He moved back a few steps. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Two," she replied. And he was. Rose smiled.
Later that morning we took Rose and Simila back to their village. Her son and older daughter were waiting. For the first time in many years Rose walked unassisted.
I couldn't help but ask, "Rose what can you see? Can you see your youngest daughter's face?"
"I can see colours and I can see shapes,” she said “I have not seen colour for many years. I cannot see my daughter's face clearly, but I can see my daughter is there." She pointed.
And Simila was standing where she pointed, smiling.
Rose may not have had a fairytale ending to her surgery, but many of the people operated on during our stay did regain full sight.
Rose's life is better, though. She does not have to be led to the toilet. She can see that someone is approaching or moving away. She can see when her daughter "is there".
Meeting Simila and Rose is an experience I will never forget.
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