How our eyesight restoration program opened my eyes

OBAT Canada posted this short video interview put together by students at one of the OBAT vocational centers- they did everything, including the subtitles in English. This product is amazing to see from our students, all from displaced population camps; it shows how OBAT has made – and continues to make – a difference, by imparting skills and bringing about a generation of leaders and changemakers.

But the content of the video itself, a testimony by a woman named Dulari, is very powerful.

I’m reminded that around 12 years ago, I headed to the displaced population camps with the intention of limiting the eyesight restoration program to middle aged or younger people only.  It was a difficult but transactional intention; the logic being to use our limited resources “efficiently” by helping those who can potentially benefit for a longer period of time.

But when I got to one of the camps, I was surrounded by many elders who had their eyesight surgically restored through our program. I still remember how they lovingly hugged me or touched my arm and tearfully expressed how they had never imagined that they would be able to see again before they passed away; how they had colour in their life again after so many years; how it was the greatest gift of their lives; how they could finally see their loved ones; that one of the greatest gifts they now had with the regained eyesight was being able to read the Qur’an, a spiritual act of worship that was incredibly dear to them. One by one they raised their hands looking up at the heavens and shared how they regularly prayed for those who had helped them see again.

Shujaat Wasty, Anwar Khan and OBAT team with patients

With the hardship they had endured for decades living in squalid camps, their existence scorned or neglected, it was clear that this program brought them much more than the ability to see. I saw firsthand how this program didn’t just change their life, but made a tremendous impact in an intangible, spiritual sense. It gave them a glimmer of hope – of light – in a sea of darkness, both literally and metaphorically. It was an incredibly humbling experience.

I scratched all plans for changing the way our program was operating and am happy to say we’ve continued as is since.  Over the years there have been thousands – of ALL ages, from children to the elderly – whose vision has been restored through our program.

Patient being examined at pre-screening camp

Humanitarian work isn’t easy: there are finite resources and there are tough decisions to be made.  Data undoubtedly drives those decisions; but sound decision-making requires a holistic approach and must take into account the plethora of personalities, cultural complexities, social sensitivities and other realities on the ground.  After all, people are not numbers but individuals.

My volunteer experiences in the humanitarian sphere have helped open my eyes over the years; it’s only appropriate that OBAT’s eyesight restoration program has been part of that journey.