Imagine you are working in your maize field and suddenly you feel like there is sand in your eyes.
You try to clear the ‘sand’ from your eyes but nothing changes. The discomfort continues and worsens. Your family members take you home because now you have started complaining about a headache.
Then, in no time, you go blind. You can no longer see.
This is not a fictional story; this is what 74-year old Kenneth Mota from Loti Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Changata in Thyolo went through.
For two years in his adult life he could not see. He had been seeing properly for the past 72 years of his life. Within hours, he lost his sight.
For 83-year-old Felitsa Dester from T/A Khwethemule in Thyolo, it was also the same story. She lost her sight five years ago. As a result, she depended on her children and grand children to take care of her.
Liviness Wanyunya in her late 60s from Ndaona Village in T/A Nsabwe in the district also lost sight a few years ago.
“I felt like particles of sand in my eyes and later I lost my sight from both eyes. It was a living hell to lose my sight at my age,” recalled Wanyunya.
These are some of the stories that people around Thava and other surrounding areas shared with a team of journalists that visited Malamulo Mission Hospital to witness their sight being restored recently.
The elderly lost their sight due to a condition called ‘cataract’ known as ng’ala in Chichewa. Cataracts is a clouding of the lens in the eye which leads to a decrease in vision.
Cataracts often develop slowly and can affect one or both eyes. Symptoms may include faded colours, blurry or double vision, halos around light, trouble with bright lights, and trouble seeing at night.
They are caused by a build-up of protein in the eye, and usually develop because of old age, according to Sight Savers International website.
“This is a big problem in this area and usually it is the old people that are victims of cataract,” said Wales Mvona, an eye surgeon working at Nkhoma Mission Hospital in the Eye Department, but who also comes from Makwasa in Thyolo.
Mvona wanted to help his folk with the cataract problem. He has the expertise, but resources were the challenge.
“So I spoke to a few people who come from this area that as Nkhoma Mission Hospital we can come here to conduct operations to our grandfathers and grandmothers, but we would need resources.
“Gladly these people mobilised resources and for the past one week we have been conducting operations on about 170 people. They have regained their sight,” said a joyful Mvona.
“Cataract is curable. The operation does not take a long time; it can be done between 8 to 15 minutes and one can have their sight restored,” he said.
Mvona said they received some cases where some patients had completely gone blind for as many as five or even 10 years but they too had their sight restored after the operation.
“When you have people who were seeing and they go blind, it affects the development of a country because all that they were doing is affected; even their way of life is affected, and this affects others around them.”
“We are happy that we have helped these people and there are, maybe others who have this problem; they should know that it is curable,” explained Mvona.
He commended the ‘sons and daughters’ of Makwasa for putting the resources together for the clinics.
“We worked hand-in-hand with traditional leaders to spread the message about these clinics. We first went around the villages to screen the patients and when we found those that required surgery we brought them here at Malamulo Mission Hospital for surgery and took them back to their villages after the surgery. They were just spending two days here in hospital,” explained Mvona.
To show support for the clinics, T/A Khwethemule personally drove some patients to the hospital for the surgeries.
The journalists were taken around and sat through some of the operations where one operation took only six minutes to finalise.
Vice-coordinator of the Restore Sight Makwasa Campaign Ben Taulo said when Mvona hatched the idea, the ‘sons and daughters’ of Makwasa saw it fit to help out.
“We did not go to any organisation to ask for funds. We contributed on our own to help our people here in Makwasa and we are happy that the clinics have managed to help 164 people who lost their sight,” said Taulo.
He said the group has almost 75 members some of whom are in the diaspora.
There were 936 patients that were seen and treated, 377 of whom were males, 559 females and 106 children. A total of 164 patients were operated on with 152 major operations and 12 minor operations, according to Taulo.
Taulo thanked Malamulo Mission Hospital for donating space for the operations at a small fee and also Thyolo District Hospital for providing an ambulance which they were using to ferry the patients from the surrounding villages for the operations.
“We would also like to thank Nkhoma Mission Hospital for releasing their staff members to conduct these clinics here. We have spent about K5 million on the clinics and we have been energised and we hope to do more of these because there are many people who need these operations,” he said.
Indeed, Taulo and friends from the area had given the beneficiaries not just new energy, but also renewed faith in God.
“I am happy that I have my sight restored. I will go to church tomorrow to praise God because for the past two years since I lost my sight, I could not go to church but now I am happy that I can now see,” boasted Mota, a Seventh Day Adventist member.
“I was frustrated and lost hope until I heard about these people who are restoring sight and I could not wait for this opportunity,” explained Mota.
Mota’s relief was shared by his family.
One of his children who was taking care of him when he was blind, Francis Liwa, said it was a challenge to look after an old man who had sight and unexpectedly lost it.
“We had problems, you can imagine when he wanted to relieve himself, we are his children and we had to help him, we had no choice. But we are happy that we are all going back to our normal lives now,” said Liwa.