World Mental Health Day

10 October, 2015 - CBM Australia

World Mental Health Day is on October 10, and works to raise public awareness of mental health issues worldwide. It helps promote discussion around mental illness, as well as the need to invest in prevention and treatments.

CBM Australia’s West Africa programme officer, Teresa Lee, shares in this blog answers to some of the questions around CBM’s mental health work in some of the poorest communities, breaking down barriers and promoting accessible mental health services to people in poverty.

Sierra Leone Counselling Session

Sierra Leone Counselling Session


Good psychosocial health is essential for the well-being and functioning of individuals, families, communities and societies. 25% of people have a mental health problem at some stage in their life. The disabilities arising from mental health problems are called ‘psychosocial disabilities’ and include conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, suicide, epilepsy, dementia, alcohol and substance use disorders. Psychosocial disabilities are a leading cause of disability worldwide.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychosocial disabilities can also leave their impact on post-disaster communities long after the emergency is over.

Q. What are some of the challenges faced in low-income countries in responding to mental health problems?

The impact of these disorders in developing countries is large, mostly due to the prejudice and discrimination of people with psychosocial disabilities and the extremely limited availability of mental health services and resources.

For example, Nigeria has only 160 psychiatrists for 160 million people, and Sierra Leone has only one retired psychiatrist for six million people!

People with psychosocial disabilities may be ‘invisible’ and excluded from participating in community life, school and work. This is exacerbated in developing countries due to lack of education and persistent beliefs about people with mental disabilities being ‘cursed’. Moreover, people who suffer from the stigma of psychosocial disabilities need protection because they are more likely to experience violation of their human rights.

Q. What is CBM doing to address mental health?

CBM has a number of projects aimed at increasing mental health services and improving the quality of life for people with psychosocial disability.

CBM’s work in mental health includes:

  • working with the World Health Organisation to develop toolkits,
  • developing and mobilising groups to advocate for people with psychosocial disabilities,
  • improving mental health services at national and local levels,
  • training healthcare workers in mental health to be able to provide better services, and
  • conducting awareness-raising activities to combat stigma.

CBM also has a strong focus on community mental health services:

  • Education – knowledge helps to strengthen the patient’s position within the community; it also reduces the risk of recurrence of the disability by increasing awareness of the condition and preventative measures.
  • Medication – a combination of medication and psychotherapy is often an effective way to treat psychosocial disabilities.
  • Family support – because feeling connected to people during one’s daily life enhances everyone’s ability to surmount the stress that might trigger depression. Similarly, supportive network groups for vulnerable people are an effective method of prevention.
  • Practical advice on matters such as community reintegration, empowerment and self-help groups can be beneficial.
  • Livelihood development – the onset of psychosocial disabilities is often associated with the loss of a stable income. By focusing on livelihood development as one aspect of community inclusion, CBM empowers the person to become an active part of their families, communities and society at large

Q. How is CBM’s work making a difference?

CBM’s work is having a significant impact. Across West Africa, CBM has contributed to governments giving greater attention to mental health issues and implementing mental health policy. For example, in Ghana, stakeholder groups supported by CBM have influenced the passage of the Mental Health law and the subsequent establishment of the Mental Health Authority by the government. In Nigeria, Benue State, primary health care workers have been trained in the majority of local government areas and over 9000 clients have been accessing mental health services across the state.

Emmanuel*, a 30 year old man with epilepsy, has accessed treatment and opportunities through the program. His family thought his first seizure at 12 years was related to witchcraft, and unsuccessfully tried traditional rituals and healing. He later accessed more adequate care and the seizures were controlled, but the medication was very costly and his seizures returned as soon as he stopped taking his medication.

This year, Emmanuel started accessing services at a local clinic set up by CBM’s partner project.

Emmanuel’s seizures are now controlled and he has become the chairman of a self-help group developed through the clinic. These groups bring together patients and caregivers to provide peer support and counselling, training on leadership and business development, and provide grants for members through a loan scheme.

This has assisted Emmanuel to farm and sell some of his produce, enabling him to pay for his treatment.


*Name has been changed

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Eye Care For All – World Sight Day 2015

8 October, 2015 - CBM Australia

Happy World Sight Day 2015!

Each year we mark this day – 8 October – as it raises awareness around eye care, blindness and vision impairment. All are essential to our work in improving the quality of life for people with disabilities in the world’s poorest communities.. This year we’re especially excited because the theme of ‘Eye Care for All’ is just so close to our heart!

Our vision is for an inclusive world. A world where people with disabilities are valued and contributing members of their communities – enjoying the same access to fundamental services – including eye care services.

Eye Care For All - World Sight Day 2015

There are lots of practical things we at CBM Australia are doing with our eye-care partners to help ensure all people can access their services.  For example, the following actions have been proven to make a real difference in how people with disabilities access eye-health services:

  • Working with clinic staff to make sure they have positive perceptions about people with disability and attitudes that are welcoming and inclusive.
  • Ensuring all signs around hospitals and health services involve high-contrast signage that makes it easier for people with vision impairment to read.
  • Working to provide good-quality wheelchair access in all areas of a hospital or eye care service.  
  • Providing printed materials that include clear, strong contrast pictures to illustrate key points and use plain language for people with disability with low-literacy skills.
  • Providing staff training in communication skills for people with a range of disabilities, including mental health conditions, vision impairment, acquired brain injury and intellectual disability.

This information can help so many hospitals or clinics around the world make their services accessible to everyone – especially the 15% of the global population who live with disability.  We’ve developed a brochure and manual to help spread the word on inclusive eye health and encourage others to adopt the simple, yet extremely effective actions  You can take look at them here (  ).

Image above: Over 80 patients waiting for their examination at an outreach clinic of CBM partner Kikuyu Eye Unit in Eastern Kenya: with awareness and education about eye care, vision tests, examination – and if necessary medication or a date for surgery is given.

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2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is officially adopted!

1 October, 2015 - CBM Australia

This blog was written by Elizabeth Lockwood and was originally written on 26 September 2015.

Elizabeth Lockwood is CBM’s UN Advocacy Officer in New York. Elizabeth focuses on developing advocacy strategies to raise awareness, network, build capacity, and lobby for the rights of persons with disabilities at the UN level in relation to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Inclusive Development. She also coordinates efforts of mainstreaming persons with disabilities in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and conducts research and writes briefs to assist with strategies for inclusion of disability issues in Millennium Development Goal efforts. Elizabeth has worked with Deaf communities in five countries focusing on advocacy and grassroots activism, is fluent in five sign languages, and has a Ph.D. in Disability Studies.

25 September 2015 was a historic day at the United Nations in New York and what a day it was! I was truly honored and privileged to be in the UN while His Holiness Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly, while the inspirational Malala Yousafzai spoke with 193 young people surrounding her, and while the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) was officially adopted by the General Assembly.

Alt="Orsolya Bartha, IDA and I standing outside the UN at the Summit"

Orsolya Bartha, IDA and I standing outside the UN at the Summit

The 2030 Agenda brings a fundamental shift for all people and the planet and seeks to promote, protect and fulfill human rights for all. We as CBM are celebrating this historic moment as the 2030 Agenda is truly inclusive of persons with disabilities. This is particularly significant because the previous UN development goals – the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – excluded persons with disabilities. Click here to read CBM’s statement. Moreover, to coincide with the 2030 Agenda adoption, CBM is launching a publication Dialogues on Sustainable Development: A Disability-Inclusive Perspective to highlight the inclusion of persons with disabilities across all development themes.

The disability-inclusive 2030 Agenda includes 11 explicit references to persons with disabilities, of which you can read an analysis here. In addition, persons with disabilities were largely included throughout the opening Summit. Below are examples of the inclusion of persons with disabilities from 25 September:

Alt="His Holiness Pope Francis speaking to the General Assembly"

His Holiness Pope Francis speaking to the General Assembly

Alt="The 2030 Agenda is officially adopted!"

The 2030 Agenda is officially adopted!

In the evening, Sightsavers organized an IDA-IDDC reception of the powerful photographic exhibition “Framing Perceptions.” We were honored to have Michael Higgins, President of Ireland attend the event. It was a beautiful way to end an historic day.

We are celebrating a disability-inclusive agenda, yet it is important to note that gaps remain and the real work lies ahead. We must continue to advocate for the development of an inclusive indicator framework linked to the Goals and targets of Agenda 2030. Furthermore, we must carry out effective implementation at the national and regional levels with linkages to the global level.

The road to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda has truly been collaborative and thank you to all of those who have tirelessly worked for this outcome. I have to particularly thank my colleagues from the International Disability Alliance for their stellar teamwork. Let’s continue the momentum!

Alt="Celebrating the 2030 Agenda adoption at the UN with (left to right) Orsolya Bartha, IDA; Vladimir Cuk, IDA; Liisa Kauppinen, former WFD President, Rosangela Berman Bieler, UNICEF; Elizabeth Lockwood, CBM; and Gopal Mitra, UNICEF "

Celebrating the 2030 Agenda adoption at the UN with (left to right) Orsolya Bartha, IDA; Vladimir Cuk, IDA; Liisa Kauppinen, former WFD President, Rosangela Berman Bieler, UNICEF; Elizabeth Lockwood, CBM; and Gopal Mitra, UNICEF

More information

UN Summit on 2030 Agenda

IDA, IDDC, UNICEF, UNDESA press release

Disability Indicators Update

Follow me on Twitter for on-the-spot updates @LockwoodEM






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Our woman of influence

24 September, 2015 - CBM Australia

CBM Australia’s very own Inclusive Development Director, Dr Kirsty Thompson is one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence.

Kirsty Thompson, Director, Inclusive Development

On September 24, the Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards 2015 was published, announcing Kirsty in the Global category for her work in strengthening Australia’s Aid program through disability-inclusive development.

CEO of CBM Australia, Jane Edge who nominated Kirsty said:
“In the nearly three years I’ve had the privilege of working with her, I’ve been incredibly impressed by Kirsty’s ability to leverage her personal and professional commitment in growing support for disability inclusive development globally – this is a well deserved recognition of her leadership, passion and strength”.

An innovative, highly collaborative and inspirational woman, Kirsty is prepared to step out and take risks to see the world’s most marginalised people, especially women and girls, gain a voice. Through her exceptional vision, vibrant leadership, intentional empowerment, and mentoring of those around her – she is truly a catalyst of change.

Kirsty’s early lived experience of disability, having been born with club-feet, contributed strongly to her understanding and approaches towards disability-inclusive development. She studied Occupational Therapy at the University of Sydney and at a very early point in her career focused on the social and economic exclusion generally faced by people living with disability.

While studying for her PhD and teaching at the University of Sydney, Kirsty mentored and encouraged younger students, coordinating a program in which students gained rehabilitation experience in poor communities in India. Many of the young women who joined this program continue to make significant contributions to Australia’s international development efforts throughout the world.

Joining CBM Australia in 2005 as the organisation’s ‘Disability Specialist’, Kirsty’s primary role was to see disability considerations built into Australia’s response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and subsequently to the devastating Pakistan earthquake of late 2005.

Given Kirsty’s unique combination of academic knowledge, practical experience and extraordinary passion, her influence was obvious.

A meeting of CBM’s International President, Professor Allen Foster with Kirsty and some of her close colleagues in 2007 was a key to CBM improving its programmatic approaches towards inclusion and adopting a new vision statement: “An inclusive world in which all people with disability enjoy their human rights and achieve their full potential”.

Kirsty’s influential role in strengthening CBM Australia’s advocacy, and the creation of the ‘Australian Disability and Development Consortium’ (ADDC), were foundational to the launch of Australia’s first ‘Development for All’ Strategy in 2008; re-launched by the Hon Julie Bishop in 2015.

Since 2008 ‘Development for All’ has created enormous strength in Australia’s Aid Program, ensuring people with disability, who make up 20 per cent of the world’s poorest people, are included in international development efforts.

In 2009, Kirsty was invited to establish CBM Australia’s Inclusive Development Department – a team that now has 24 staff – and quickly achieved significant outcomes, such as:

  • Establishment of the CBM-Nossal Partnership with the University of Melbourne
  • Founding CBM Australia’s ongoing contracts with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the implementation of ‘Development for All’
  • Numerous training, consultancy and research assignments with Australian Council for International Development members
  • The launch of the ‘End the Cycle of poverty and disability’ campaign where people with disability tell their own stories (

These achievements speak to Kirsty’s strong mentoring and empowering approaches – a skill that is recognised throughout the Australian and international development sector.

Through Kirsty’s work and dedication, some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged people in the world, those with disability, are now being intentionally included and are contributing to their country’s development and poverty alleviation strategies.

Although this is just a small snapshot of Kirsty’s achievements, it is clear that she is a woman of influence, and we at CBM Australia are thrilled that her work has been recognised.

The most influential in each category, as well as the most influential overall, will be announced at an awards evening on October 15 in Sydney Town Hall.

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International Week of the Deaf

23 September, 2015 - CBM Australia

Elena Down is a Senior Technical Advisor in the Inclusive Development Department at CBM Australia. She is deaf, and is a qualified lawyer and development practitioner who advises on a wide range of disability inclusive development issues. She had the opportunity to attend the World Federation of the Deaf Congress in Turkey with CBM, and reflects here on how sign language plays a part in creating and celebrating a diverse and inclusive world.

When was the last time you attended a conference and communicated effortlessly with people from over 90 countries?

This was the experience of many deaf attendees at the World Federation of the Deaf Congress in late July in Istanbul, Turkey, with the theme ‘Celebrating Human Diversity’.

It was great to see a range of papers presented in sign language from Deaf presenters globally – young leaders in Indonesia, psychologists presenting on mental health and deafness, educators , European deaf parliamentarians on legislative and policy developments and advocacy, and deaf African lawyer talking about the need for more support to deaf women and girls, and access to justice.

Rose Kwamboka (CBM Kenya) presents at CBM side event.

Rose Kwamboka (CBM Kenya) presents at CBM side event.

This year there was a stronger space for perspectives from developing countries. We had older role models, and energetic youth. It truly was an inspiring conference!

At this year’s Congress, CBM was delighted to co-host a side event with presenters Rose Kwamboka (CBM Kenya) and Nassozi  Kiyaga (from CBM partner organisation Deaflink Uganda), along with representatives from other development organisations Kentalis and Abelis Foundation, also working to support the deaf in developing countries.

For me one of the highlights was being able to meet deaf staff and partners of CBM face-to-face.

What a talented, enthusiastic and energetic and diverse group we had gathered – we had ideas and hands flying fast! – from Australia, Belgium, Philippines, Kenya, Thailand, Pakistan, Uganda, Niger, South Africa, USA and Wales. We had people with backgrounds as diverse as finance, technical advising in development, human rights advocacy, deaf education and vocational skills training.

This is an exciting space for CBM. We need to be able to reach out to deaf people globally, who remain among the world’s poorest and most overlooked people – 80 percent of people who are deaf live in developing countries and often lack access to services. In many cases this is because of a lack of access to sign language and to qualified interpreters, as well as discriminatory laws and attitudes toward deaf people.

This year’s theme for International Week of the Deaf is: “With sign language rights, our children can” – highlighting the importance of sign language to the achievement of full access to education for deaf children.

Elena Down (CBM Australia), Akram Muhammad (Pakistan), Sian Tesni (CBM education advisor, Wales) and Pakistani sign language interpreter Aqeel (Pakistan.)

Sign language is so important for deaf kids – to give and receive information, to learn and to make sense of their world, and to participate in activities just as their hearing peers do. Unfortunately, a large majority of the world’s Deaf population have never been to school, with estimates as high as 90% of people who are Deaf not receiving formal education.  (World Federation for the Deaf statistic)

I will never forget a moment in China, where I visited a deaf school being quizzed by a 3 year old boy – hands flying – “Why is your nose so big? Where do you come from? Where is Australia? Is it surrounded by water? Then how did you get here anyway? Did you swim?”  He was disarming in his cheekiness. This is what we want to see – inquisitive, confident deaf kids keen to learn about their world with sign language.

Take a moment this week to watch a video to appreciate the beauty of sign language in motion, and reflect on how important it is for deaf people to have access to it – to learn it, to share ideas in it, to present conference papers and training in it, and join the campaign for kids to have access to sign language so that the next generation might have even better opportunities to break cycles of poverty and take their place in making the world a more diverse, more exciting and colourful place!

Sign Language Promotes Linguistic Identity

Sign Language Promotes Linguistic Identity

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Cataract surgery – the flow-on effect…

17 September, 2015 - CBM Australia

CBM Australia’s Content Lead, Amanda Warrick visited our field partners in Bangladesh, to collect stories and images for Miracles Day. Here she reflects on her meeting with 80 year old Shanti and how her life has changed after her cataract surgery.

In July, Melbourne was in the middle of the coldest winter for the last two decades; it was definitely not the greatest preparation for time spent in Bangladesh – where temperatures were at a constant 33C with 90% humidity.

The rivers were fast-flowing due to monsoon season, and traffic was barely moving due to the congested roads. It was very hot, very muggy and in places by the river where wild boars roam, it could only be described as very fragrant.

It was with this back drop that I gained a deeper insight into the flow-on effect of CBM’s work and how treatment is just the start.

Shanti and her grandchildren

Shanti and her grandchildren

I was privileged to meet Shanti at her home, approximately three hours out of the capital city, Dhaka. As I sat with her on the muddy ground outside her home, the local community crammed in to see the strangers who had travelled to the middle of nowhere, to visit their neighbour.

Shanti had cataract surgery six months ago, before surgery she had spent eight months living in total darkness.

“When the days were black, I was very unhappy and passed the time away alone in my home or in the yard, as everyone else was busy with their work – without sight I lost my world…” Shanti said. She was completely dependent on her family for everything; collecting and preparing food, eating, cleaning her home and herself, doing her washing, walking, going to the toilet. She felt helpless and like she was a burden.

Since having her sight-restoring surgery through a CBM partner, she’s back to her best. She contributes to her family home, by helping with cooking and cleaning. She also enjoys the simple pleasure of sitting with her grandsons, playing games with them and seeing the smiles on their faces.

When I’ve thought about cataract surgery in the past, I’ve focussed on the actual surgery – which is awe-inspiring: 12 minutes and someone has their sight restored, how amazing! But it was when I met Shanti that I truly understood the difference this one surgery made; not only to Shanti, but also to her family, and her whole community. The flow-on effect is huge and has many positive outcomes.

A simple surgery through CBM means someone like Shanti will get their world back. Shanti is able to meaningfully contribute to her family. She is now independent and self sufficient. And because Shanti no longer needs constant care, her family can go to work and earn money for food, or go to school, without fear or concern for her.

It’s more than just surgery; one treatment flows on to positively impact the whole community.

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The Many Faces of Inequality – Melbourne Development Circle

11 September, 2015 - CBM Australia

On Tuesday 1 September, CBM Australia, WaterAid Australia and Plan international joined together to present at the Melbourne Development Circle.

The event, which was attended by more than 60 people, focused on how different layers of identity can impact on a person’s experience of inequality.

CBM Australia, Senior Technical Advisor, Sally Cobb, reflected on how intersections of identity such as disability, gender, and age can affect access to rights and opportunities.

“By seeking to understand the diverse layers and impact of identity, we can also identify and address the barriers facing people who are excluded and marginalised, and work towards ensuring that no one is left behind in development efforts,” says Sally.

Melbourne Development Circle

Photo: Sally Cobb, CBM Australia, facilitates a “Game of Life” with Chelsea Huggett from WaterAid Australia; Asahel Bush from Plan International Australia; and two audience members at the Melbourne Development Circle event. (Photo – CBM Australia)

Joining Sally Cobb on the panel was Water Aid Australia’s, Equity, Inclusion and Rights Advisor, Chelsea, Plan International representatives; Senior Gender Equality and Inclusion Advisor, Deborah Elkington and Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Officer, Asahel Bush.

Although all panellists have different development focuses, overlapping identities and the challenges they pose, is a common theme in their work.

Chelsea Huggett spoke about how disability and gender intersect with her work in accessible Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); highlighting the importance of WASH programs in addressing inequalities throughout the whole life cycle, as a person’s identity constantly evolves.

Deborah Elkington and Asahel Bush co-presented a case study on marginalised people, particularly women, young people, and people with a disability, in selected communities in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda – emphasising the need to embrace complexity and recognise multiple inequalities.

Embracing and learning about the local context was reflected in each presentation.

 “Different aspects of identity are created and interact throughout a person’s life – influencing that persons access to rights, opportunities and basic services and ultimately their experience of equality. Therefore organisations like CBM Australia need to be constantly learning about the different dynamics within local contexts.” Sally Cobb concluded.

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My week in Nepal – reflecting on Miracles Day

10 September, 2015 - Steph Gaut

In her final blog instalment for CBM’s Miracles Day, 89.9 LightFM’s Lucy Holmes reflects on the impact Nepal – and the world’s poorest people living with cataract blindness – has had on her heart…


I’ve been back a week now.

Seems like a lifetime ago I was staying in the one of the furthest corners of Nepal, watching people of all ages embark on an extraordinary journey.

It’s been a strange week, being back home. I wasn’t ready for the culture shock. I wasn’t ready for the emotions I would feel leaving Nepal. I didn’t realise I would be so greatly affected.  I thought I’d land in Melbourne and life would go back to normal. I was wrong. I’m not sure what normal is anymore.  I feel like I’ve left my heart back in Nepal.

I’ve been very quiet this week. If you know me at all, you know that’s very unlike me. I’ve struggled to explain to people how the trip went. I can’t express the impact it’s had on me. People think I’m jetlagged. But it’s more like ‘heart-lag’. My heart is sore and heavy and tired.

How do I explain to people the things I saw? How do I explain to people how it felt to meet these people… people like the 80-year-man called Krityanand Jha? How do I explain that I watched as he blindly stumbled into the operating theatre, a bundle of nerves? How do I explain that I nearly passed out in the hot operating theatre, not because I was squeamish but because I was so overcome with emotion? How do I explain that I saw them place a new lens into his eye in a matter of minutes, and the simplicity of the operation shocked me to tears? How I saw him a day later and was there when they took his patch off? How do I explain that moment in time, when the realisation spread across his face that he could see? That he looked up at me and broke into a giant grin… and how we sat opposite each other smiling like idiots. How the language barrier meant that all I could do was clap in glee for him, and he clapped back to me, his eyes sparkling with happiness and hope. How, when we left him, he kept touching his heart then his eyes, in gratitude. How do I sum up all that emotion and explain that to people? How do I explain that I can’t be the same after witnessing all this?

Lucy with patients

Words fail me. So I’ll make you a brief list. These are the things that have shaken up my world this past week :

1.    The operation is so incredibly simple. It takes only minutes. They walk in, walk out moments later, and the next day they can see. Simple. So crazy simple.

2.     How little it costs to change someone’s life forever. It’s pocket change for so many Australians. $32 to us is a night at the movies. For someone in a Third World country, it can be the difference between living and dying.

3.     How much it affects their life, and their families’ lives. How giving them eyesight is giving them LIFE.

4.     How unbelievably grateful they are for the support and foreign aid they receive.

5.     How we can talk until we are blue in the face about our ‘heart’ for the poor and disadvantaged, but faith without works is dead.  Talk is talk. We need to  be the hands and feet of Jesus.


If I could take every one of you reading this overseas to meet these people, you would never be the same. You’d give. And you’d give again. And you’d give till it hurts. Because you couldn’t go back to your comfortable life knowing that you could change so many lives for so little money.

CBM is doing an incredible job overseas in these projects. They care for the poorest of the poor. The people that everyone else forgets. The blind, the lame, the disabled. The work they do, and the way in which they do it, is truly astounding. I am so blessed to have had this opportunity with CBM. Thankyou, CBM, for changing my life through allowing me to witness these miracles first-hand. I will support you however I can and shout your good name from the rooftops forever more!

If you donated to Miracles Day, then thank you on behalf of all the people I met. On behalf of people like Krityanand Jha.  He was so excited to be able to see again. He said he had hope now. That he could go and work and earn some money so he could afford food for himself and his wife.  Thankyou for caring about these people, even though you will never meet them.

You are changing lives. You are saving lives. You are creating miracles. Thank you… thank you… thank you again.

If Krityanand Jha was here, he would touch his hand to his heart and then his eyes. And you would see his smile, and you would know that you had changed the world for him. Forever. God bless you…


Lucy x

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The Miracle Gift of Sight – a life transformed!

27 August, 2015 - Steph Gaut

Part 2 of Lucy’s Miracles Day Nepal trip.


Write a blog, they said.

Sure, I replied. That’s easy, I thought. I love writing.

But… now words fail me.

I’m literally speechless. Which for a radio host, is a rare thing.

I’m struggling to find the right words to explain what I am witnessing here in Nepal. I’ll give it a shot, but it’s almost impossible to put pen to paper when it comes to the whirlwind of emotions I’m feeling.


I’ve witnessed a miracle. Infact I’ve witnessed quite a few since I’ve been here. Infact, this whole hospital is nothing short of a miracle. Hundreds of people begin to queue and start the process of receiving their very own miracle. It’s a long day, but everyone is quiet and patient. They are calm. You can tell many are scared, and it’s probably the first time many of these have stepped inside a hospital, but it’s their last hope. They want to see again.  They NEED to see again. Being blind in a third world country is … well, it’s unthinkable. They are some of the most forgotten and marginalized people on the planet.

Many have come from all across Nepal and northern India. A man I spoke to travelled 400kms, hoping someone here could help him see again. Hoping.

Another father I spoke to cradled his ten month old daughter in his lap. Her name was Charisma. Her eye started turning white a month ago. She became blind very quickly. You can tell she is his pride and joy. He travelled 26 hours with her. He told me he would have travelled as far as he had to, to get help. He was scared. His wife was scared. Trusting your little baby to strangers, having her whisked away into an operating theatre, placed under anesthetic, watching her fall asleep under the bright lights of a surgeons knife, I understood their fear. That is universal. These were simple villagers who didn’t understand the process. All they knew was that if they came to this place, then maybe, just maybe their baby would be able to see again.

I have a daughter who is about 8 weeks older than their baby. My little girl loves staring up at me and grabbing my face. She loves watching birds in the garden. She chases after our dog squealing with glee. When I pull her favourite snack from the cupboard and she sees in it my hands, she shouts and claps. She can see. I think about this little girl lying in the bed in front of me. She can’t see anything. She can’t see her mummy or daddy. She can’t see a sunset. She can’t squeal when a duck runs infront of her, or clap when a baby goat skips past. She’s trapped in darkness. If she remained blind, her life would be very dark indeed. Housebound, and unable to help. Unable to earn money. Unable to be married.

And the crazy thing is, a 12 minute operation that costs $32 can fix her almost instantly. I would pay $32 for my daughter to see. I would pay $32,000 for my daughter to see. In fact, I would pay whatever it took. These people have nothing. All they have is hope.  Hope that if they travel 26 hours, that someone here will help them. Hope that their little daughter will see again. Hope that someone, somewhere in the world has said yes, I care about your daughter. I care about her future. I care enough to give $32 so she can see again.

$32? A movie ticket and popcorn to us. A meal out. A new top. A good book. A few cups of coffee. Things we take for granted. Yet, $32 to these people is equivalent to giving them the world. Giving them their lives back. Giving them a future. Giving them hope.

I stand in the operating theatre and watch the operation. It’s so quick. The surgeons move quickly. There are 8 beds in the theatre I am in. It’s like a well oiled machine. As quickly as they move in, they move out. It’s calm. It’s quiet.

I am overwhelmed. It’s hot. I am emotional. I am watching these people’s lives be changed in the blink of an eye. I become lightheaded and I almost faint. I walk outside, sit down and place my head in my hands. I feel nauseous. I’m not sure if it’s the operation  that’s making me feel sick, or that fact that my western life is so comfortable, and so unaffected by these poor people on the other side of the planet, that it hits me hard. I feel guilty. For wasting money. For the times I have frittered money away. I feel angry that in this day and age, we are still so divided across the world. The haves and the have nots. I start to understand, really understand, why Jesus spoke mostly about loving the poor. Why He got it. Why He wants US to get it. And do something.  Sometimes I am saddened that Christians seem to be known for the things they are against, as opposed the things they are for. This is something we should be for. CBM is for it. Seeing the work of CBM here is like watching the hands and feet of Jesus. They are amazing.

I make myself go back inside the operating theatre. I stare at the people on the tables, making myself memorise their faces. So I don’t forget. So I always remember the miracles taking place here on the other side of the world. So I remember how blessed I am. And how I should do everything in my power to help these people.

Little Charisma, the tenth month old, had a successful operation. I saw her afterwards but she was still knocked out. Lying in her grandmothers arms. This tiny child the same age as my daughter but half the size. They were waiting for her to wake up. They looked worried. I wanted to throw my arms around them all and tell them it would be ok, but it’s not appropriate. I get to go see her again in a few hours. It’s been a day since her operation and her patch will come off. I can’t wait to see the joy on her face when she realizes she can see.

All it took was 12 minutes, $32 and she will be able to see.

She will be able to see her mummy. Her daddy. The Moon. The stars. A sunrise and a sunset. Her whole life is ahead of her now.

And all because someone, a million miles away, sitting in their comfortable house, somewhere in suburban Australia…. decided to make a miracle happen. They gave a small amount. It didn’t even hurt them. They didn’t even notice the money gone. But it changed someone’s whole life forever.

You won’t get to meet Charisma. You won’t get to see her beautiful baby smile. You won’t see the relief on the face of her parents. You won’t hear them say thankyou or see their tears.

But I saw it. So on behalf of Charisma, and her parents… thank you.

Thank you thank you thank you.


You have performed a miracle.

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Miracles Day 2015 – behind the scenes

24 August, 2015 - Steph Gaut

Lucy Holmes is a breakfast radio announcer with Melbourne’s 89.9 Light FM. Lucy is joining several other announcers from around the country and travelling to Nepal to get first-hand experience of what life is like for some of the world’s poorest people living with cataract blindness. In her first blog of the series, Lucy gets geared up ffor the highs and lows of exploring a developing country ahead of Miracles Day on Thursday 27 August:


So I’m finally en route to Nepal.

Nepal. A land I don’t know too much about. Apart from the recent devastating earthquakes, what else do I know? Sherpas? Yaks? Mount Everest?

I don’t know much but I do know that it’s a small landlocked country with the population of Australia crammed into the space the size of Victoria. That’s probably about it. And the fact that it’s one of the world’s poorest countries.

I have a lot to learn. Obviously.

And I’m excited and scared about that. I’ve done a lot of travel in my life, but never to a country so poor. And one with so many people in need… Or one that is still recovering from a horrific natural disaster.

Lucy is travelling with CBM to Nepal to witness life-changing cataract surgery.

Lucy is travelling with CBM to Nepal to witness life-changing cataract surgery.


I did some more reading and found out that about 40% of Nepalese live in poverty. Perhaps more now after the devastating earthquakes in April this year. Nearly 9,000 dead. Staggering. The country was left in ruins. And experts have said it will take years to rebuild Nepal’s fragile economy.

Apparently foreign aid is vital to the economy. For people to just survive. I’m excited that I get to see what foreign aid is doing firsthand in Nepal, through the work of CBM. I’ve donated in the past, and I’ve experienced that moment of feeling pleased I’ve been able to help in a tiny way, but I know this trip will be life changing. I know that I won’t return the same person that arrived, joking about Yaks.

In all honesty, I still am blown away that in this day and age of consumerism and greed, there are still people willing to give their money to save and bless people a million miles away. People they will never meet. I am excited that I will be able to see the work that is happening and report back to the listeners and tell them how their generosity is changing lives. What an honour.

I am excited to see lives changed this week… Stay tuned. We can make Miracles happen together.

Lucy x

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