CBM’s Church Engagement Lead Rob Nicholls reflects in this fourth instalment from Kenya on the impact cataract surgery can have not only on the individual, but on the whole family and entire communities.
Today, a fellow grandfather looked at me as we parted and said, “I like your job!”. I replied that I did too, especially today. We had a common bond – he grew coffee and I love drinking it! But we also shared a sense of enormous achievement as we gazed at his granddaughter, Leila, and great-granddaughter Lacy.
Lacy had been born totally blind with cataracts in both eyes. After some months, Leila’s mother and aunt both expressed concern; Leila’s aunt took Lacy to Sabatia Eye Hospital, a specialist eye care hospital in Vihiga County, Western Kenya, which today we visited. Just this month, both of Lacy’s cataracts were removed and replaced with lenses; now her mother describes her as a happy and active girl “doing all the things I saw other babies do”. As we sat in the room with three generations the emotion was palpable, and we were thanked for our part in this.
CBM was present at the inception of Sabatia Hospital and has been strong partner throughout that time. In fact, CBM’s support enabled children like Lacy to have vital surgery at no cost, when it would have been beyond the resources of the family to pay the full cost.
We spent a number of hours with Dr Annis Orlando, the CEO and paediatric ophthalmologist, who introduced us to almost all of the staff and spoke with great passion of the importance of this work and of ensuring that everyone had access to good eye care.
40,000 people per annum receive treatment through the hospital, and they train doctors from Kenya, Uganda, Ruanda and Tanzania to expand the number of people impacted by this great work. We saw everything from eye testing, assessment and diagnosis, prescription, surgery and even spectacle-making, as we walked the hallways of this beautiful place. We chatted with men and women as they had their eye patches removed after their surgery the day before. They ranged from 16 years old to over 80, and we also met very young babies with their mothers as they waited for or recovered from surgery. I loved watching the warmth of the interactions between our group of Christine, Wendy and Dona with those people.
Of course, not everything happened at the hospital; we had heard of the outreach work to visit schools and remote community where, following screening, people were bussed to the hospital for surgery.
I had a long-held wish fulfilled as I stood in the operating theatre and watched three adults have their cataracts removed and new lenses put in their place! A very young baby even had delicate surgery done to correct his glaucoma-affected vision. I watched, amazed, as miracles literally took place before my eyes! We were fortunate that large screens had been linked to the microscope used by the surgeons as they worked. Their deftness working with such small instruments in such a delicate part of the body was professionalism at the highest level. That is not an experience I will ever forget.
The home visits that followed helped us experience the impact and see the importance of that surgery. Seeing young Lacy was a beautiful experience, as was visiting an older couple Joaquin and Esther.
Joaquin was a farmer with cattle and crops who was the breadwinner for his family at over 70 years of age. For 18 months he was unable to work because his eyesight had deteriorated to the point of not being able to go anywhere without Esther’s help and not being able to read his bible, a significant loss for him.
His crops had shrunk to a fraction of their normal size when he finally had both cataracts removed this month. He is now able to get back to work, be mobile and read his bible. Esther was very happy because she could now get on with her work too and not have to lead Joaquin everywhere. They were a joyful couple who wanted to wish us and CBM many kind blessings.
It was hard to leave the conversation I was having with my fellow grandfather, Mohammed. We managed to communicate that we both believed in our brotherhood, whatever our beliefs, and loved our families. I left with his words ringing in my ears and thanking God for my job and the opportunity to meet such genuine people who knew how to be grateful.
All this week we’ll be sharing insights from our team who’ve travelled over to Kenya for a Church Engagement field visit. In this post, Rob, Church Engagement Coordinator, shares about his first impressions, his inaugural Kenyan church experience and what he’s looking forward to visiting CBM projects and meeting CBM beneficiaries.
I’ve arrived in Nairobi with great expectations. We’re visiting a great range of work by our partners in Nairobi, Kajiado, Kisumu, Kakamega and Kijabe. More about all of those places as the week goes on but we will get to see lots of community based work in urban and rural locations amongst people disadvantage by the combination of poverty and disability.
At CBM Australia we’ve been planning to take church leaders to visit CBM projects for about 4 years! We do understand the impact we can have on our field partners, country and regional offices and so we’re very grateful for the time and effort they have made to welcome us to Kenya. Linda Mwania, my colleague at CBM Australia has made the difference because of her deep knowledge of working with all of these groups and her skills at planning and negotiating such a visit. I’m also excited that we have Rev Dona Spencer from Southport Uniting Church and Wendy Campbell from Paradise Point Uniting Church part of this first church leaders’ field trip.
Our first day served to help us adjust to life in Kenya and connect as a team. Linda’s church in Nairobi, Nairobi Chapel, is an exciting church and very hospitable. I loved the passion of this community and the beauty of the relationships we experienced. The afternoon was different in a number of ways as we visited a local market where we met trade was brisk and sometimes brutal. Fortunately, humour was also found in the midst of commercial negotiations. I was offered all the contents of one stall in exchange for my camera!
After meeting our photographer extraordinaire, Guilio, we met up with Kirsten Bostelmann, CBM Regional Director East Africa, who briefed us on our trip and some important cultural guidelines that would help us not offend those we were visiting. It reminded me of the intrusion we make when we visit people with disabilities and the families and CBM’s partner organisations. They have important work to do and lives to live so we need to tread lightly and understand the privilege this is. Tomorrow we will meet people living in urban poverty and hear their stories.
CBM’s Linda Mwania reporting from the East Africa food crisis.
Our visit to this area has drawn to a close, and as we begin our journey I reflect on our time in this border town.
This area has a natural beauty, the community warm and welcoming. I have been touched by the strength of the people living in the interior despite experiencing a currently difficult period. Even more so, the many people who have shared their lives with us particularly those living with disability. I feel that we have a responsibility to stand alongside them during this time. And to work together as partners on the ground to ensure that whatever help is available reaches them quickly.
So pray for CBM as we respond to the situation in Kenya and horn of Africa countries, and work with partners including the Kenya Red Cross and others to bring help where it is needed. Pray for the Emergency Response Unit headed by Valerie that they will find the support necessary to implement CBM’s response. Pray for the people affected by the drought and famine that they will not lose hope, and that help will reach them quickly. And pray especially for persons with disabilities that are also affected by this drought, for their courage as they try to rebuild their lives in the following months and years.
CBM’s Linda Mwania reporting from the East Africa food crisis. Moyale.
Today at the hospital I met a few mothers and their children that had been admitted in the ward in order to receive supplemental feeding. Among them I spoke once more with Hawai, whom we had met two days before. At that time she had just come into the hospital with her granddaughter, a two month old weighing 2.2 kgs on admission.
She had walked from the village of Elu, 3 kms away, worried for the baby’s health. When the baby’s mother died while she was one month old, Hawai took on care of her granddaughter. Due to the drought most of their cattle had died so there was no cow’s milk. They tried feeding the baby on goat’s milk but she reacted after some time and started vomiting a lot. She was not well. When the little baby was received at the hospital she was immediately put on supplements and milk resulting in a visible difference in just two days.
The Nursing Officer in Charge at Moyale District Hospital informed us that as a result of the current drought, despite feeding centres in the community, cases of malnutrition are on the rise. This is affecting not only the children but the adults too. When children are discharged from hospital they are provided with food packages for supplemental feeding. These packages end up being utilized by the entire family due to the gravity of the situation.
However, it is encouraging to see how as in the case of Hawai’s granddaughter, necessary assistance can turn this situation around.
Images © CBM Australia / Greg Low
CBM’s Linda Mwania reporting from the East Africa food crisis.
Last week I was in Kwale District, and this morning I travel up to North Kenya.
The drought conditions that continue to ravage Horn of Africa countries resulting in a declared famine in Southern Somalia, is having a growing impact on Kenyan communities.
Almost 3 million Kenyans are currently affected. This weekend the Government announced that this figure could rise to 10 million Kenyans within the next few weeks if help doesn’t reach them quickly. Traditionally non-arid areas in Central, Nyanza and Western are now experiencing food shortages brought on by the prevailing conditions.
CBM is concerned about persons with disabilities who tend to be more vulnerable in situations such as these. With already limited mobility they experience challenges accessing food distribution activities and moving away from harsh conditions to where help is available.
I hope to bring a daily update during our visit to Northern Kenya over the next few days.