Seens of joy

CBMThe sound of someone getting their sight back is often no sound at all.

That’s one of the things Uniting Church minister Rev Dona Spencer learnt when she observed eye cataract surgery patients in Kenya discovering if their operations had been successful.

“We were there in the hospital as they took off their bandages,” Ms Spencer said.

“It was just so wonderful to watch as the bandage was removed and see the expressions on their faces. You could see their brain registering what they were actually being able to see and it took a while for their brain to kick in.’

“It was absolute silence, just hushed amazing silence as we all stood there with bated breath. The person would gradually get the words, the mouth would start speaking and they’d be so thrilled.

“And then within about 10 minutes they were overcome with joy and you couldn’t shut them up.”

Ms Spencer, who is minister at Southport Uniting Church on the Gold Coast, was invited by ecumenical NGO CBM to visit Kenya last October.

CBM, formerly known as the Christian Blind Mission, focuses on helping people with a range of disabilities in the developing world. It also works to make faith communities more inclusive in Australia through its Luke 14 arm.

Ms Spencer, who is involved with Luke 14, went to Kenya to see CBM’s field operations with two other friends from Australia who had nursing backgrounds.

In Nairobi they visited a slum area where CBM helps operate a school centre for mothers of children with a severe disability.

“In some African communities, if your child is born with a disability you are more or less cast out,” Ms Spencer said.

“We sat in this tin shed that was extremely hot. In contrast to the rawness and heat and ugliness of the surroundings, these women had the most radiant, joyful faces because they had found a community.”

Ms Spencer’s party was taken to an eye hospital outside Nairobi, where she first encountered cataract surgery patients who had undergone the operation the day before.

“We turned a corner at this hospital and there were all these Masai people sitting there, very tall, very elegant with all their jewellery wrapped around their necks,” Ms Spencer said.

“A lot of them had been blind for half their lives. We were there as they removed the bandages so we were there for their first sight, for their first look with clarity. We were in tears, they were in tears and embracing. It was just beautiful.”

Ms Spencer’s friend Wendy Campbell witnessed the operations taking place.

“Coming from a nursing background, she just couldn’t believe it. The window was open, the kids were playing in the dust outside, the lady had all of her jewellery on and yet they were doing a major cataract operation,” Ms Spencer said.

“It just shows that you can still perform these things in the most difficult of circumstances and how wonderful it is, what these doctors are doing. They adapt, they’re just so flexible and they’re successful.”

Later Ms Spencer steeled herself to observe operations being performed at a dedicated eye hospital in the west of Kenya. She watched as the layers of the eye were being peeled back on magnified video.

“I remained standing!” Ms Spencer said.

“I was more amazed by this young woman who was a surgeon and they had two people undergoing surgery at the same time. She was there intensely operating on person after person after person, probably eight a day.

“It’s so intricate to put a blade underneath the outer eye and the person is totally with it, they’re not out to it as they are in Australia. It’s an amazing operation and CBM do such a fantastic job.”

Ms Spencer said that an important element of CBM’s work was that it trained local doctors to do the work. She urged Christians in Australia to consider supporting CBM.

“I can assure them that their financial gifts are being well used, wisely used,” Ms Spencer said.

“And it’s one life at a time that they’re changing. There are tangible effects of the financial support, very tangible.

“It is miraculous, especially for that person who sees again. It’s a miracle for them.”

CBM says the ‘miracle’ of cataract surgery to return a person’s sight only costs $32 per operation and takes 12 minutes.

The agency’s Miracles Day fundraiser in August has so far raised enough money for 27,500 operations.

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