When Ramadhani was 3 months old his mother Jena Mgarya (24) detected a white spot in his right eye. She brought her son to a local hospital in Muheza/Tanzania, where she lives with her family. There, the doctors couldn’t help the boy but referred him to the CBM-funded hospital CCBRT in Dar Es Salaam. Jena saved some money to buy a bus ticket and made the long journey – but without a happy end.
At the hospital, the doctors diagnosed a cataract but couldn’t operate because of Ramadhani’s blood clotting was not good enough. Mother and son had to travel home where the little boy should take some drugs to improve the blood clotting and then come back. But a second bus ticket to Dar Es Salaam was too expensive for the family. Jena and her husband have four children but never enough money. While the father is a daily worker the mother breaks stones at home. Together they earn 0,5 Dollar a day – to feed 4 children. So Ramadhani was not operated.
The white spot in his right eye grew. And he also slowly lost the vision of his left eye. Today he is blind on the right eye and has very poor vision on the left. “He stumbles often and falls down”, his mother says. “He often hurts himself.” He loves to play ball with other kids but this is nearly impossible by now. “When he wants to see something he has to get very close to it and cover one eye with his hand”, Jena says. While playing ball this is not practical. Although the other kids are kind and always show him where the ball is he can’t really play with them anymore. He simply is too slow. But still he tries. “I like football”, he quips. In fact he would love to kick the ball but in reality he always is the keeper – and not the best one. “When the sun is shining I cannot see the ball. That is not fair”, he says. “The other kids make goals then.”
“Everything that other kids can do, he cannot”, his mum says. She describes that he needs help with nearly everything in daily life: from eating till going to the toilet she has to give him a hand. But most heartbreaking for her is to see him suffer. “He says he doesn’t feel like a normal child. He says that this is not fair. He often cries.” Especially when his siblings go to school – and he has to stay at home alone. “He never has been to school”, Jena says and explains why: Despite the fact that he could not have seen anything on the blackboard she didn’t dare to send him there because he would have to cross a street. “Trucks and busses come down this street very fast. And Ramadhani cannot see them.” Every try to cross the street would threaten his life. So, the boy stays at home when his siblings leave. “And every day he says: Mum, I also want to go to school”, she says. She breathes deeply. “It is painful for me to see this.” Ramadhani turns his face towards his mum when he hears her speaking. When asked what his biggest wish is, he answers: “I want to go to school!”
One day when the family had lost hope for long a car came by their house and made an announcement by megaphone that immediately thrilled them all: A general outreach of CBMfunded hospital KCMC in Moshi would take place in the neighbourhood soon. And whoever needs medical help would get it – free of costs! Jena and her sons walked there and where brought from the team to KCMC in Moshi – to finally heal Ramadhani’s cataract.
When they arrive at KCMC they take a seat in the waiting area in front of the examination room. Lots of kids are running around, playing with toys. But not Ramadhani. He curiously turns his head towards the laughter of the kids, his eyes halfway closed in a desperate attempt to see anything. But he keeps on sitting on the wooden bench, one hand clings to the back of the bench as if he was afraid to lose orientation. Then he is called in to see the doctor. When Dr. Godfrey Furahini examines the boy at the slitlamp. His diagnosis: bilateral cataract. He frowns in frustration when he examines the boy’s right eye. “On his right eye he has only light perception”, he explains. And really: When Ramadhani turns his head towards the light of the doctor’s torch but doesn’t react on his waving fingers. “Since he was born with cataract on this eye and is already ten years old the prognosis after operation is not so good.” But then his face brightens up. “But we can for sure save his eyesight on the left eye with the operation!”
And also in this regard, Ramadhani receives help at KCMC – an otitis media was diagnosed and treated immediately. At home, he would never have been helped.
On the day of the operation (both eyes in one surgery) the boy is the last one in a queue of children patients. He has to wait long until it is his turn to go into the theatre but he doesn’t complain. Like usual he silently sits on the bench in the waiting area. Not talking, not moving, his head hanging down. When he is called inside the theatre he bravely goes – without shedding a tear. After the operation, he sleeps long, again without crying. When the nurse Sarah Lutabingwa comes to the ward the next morning to remove the bandages of his eyes he is not as excited as many other kids. He seems not to expect any change. After the bandages are removed he doesn’t open his eyes for long. His mum has to convince him until he slowly starts blinking and opening his eyes. But still, he doesn’t say a word, only looks at his right hand intensely – with a look of absent wonder on his face. He seems not to notice that he doesn’t have to hold his hand as close to his eyes as usual!
But on the next day, he realized that his life had changed – and how! Again sitting on the bench in front of the doctor’s room. But this time he is not moveless at all. He cannot sit silently for a second, swings his legs, looks down, suddenly detects his moving feet under the bench, bends down and stares at them, sees his hand at the edge of the bench, moving them while looking at them with a broad smile on his face that had not been there all the days before. Then it is time for doing the eye test with optometrist Zeno Mkenda. The right eye hasn’t improved much by now as expected. But at least he can now see the movement of a hand not only light. But the left eye has changed! He can read until the third line of the Snellen chart (6/24), with glasses even until the very last line! Of course, he doesn’t know the letters because he has never been to school. But he recognised them on the chart in his hand and therefore could point out which letter he could see on the chart at the chart six meters away. “Safi”, Zeno says smiling in Swahili. “Good!” She is satisfied. “He sees very good already on his left eye.” In one month when his sight is stable after the operation, he will receive glasses. “It is essential for him to come back to get the glasses”, Zeno says. “Without them, the operation would be of no worth.”
Then, finally, comes the day when Ramadhani can leave the hospital. After 5 hours by car he reaches his home in Muheza. Not one second he has closed his eyes on the long way. He looked out of the window, hungry for new impressions. At home he jumps out of the car and runs into the house where his father Said is waiting in the one room where the whole family (parents and 4 kids) live and sleep in one bed. His dad is speechless. “He never ran around at this speed. What a huge change!” Mother Jena follows her son a bit slower. But she also smiles. “I am so happy. I have not expected him to see so well after the operation.” Together the parents watch their son playing – and testing his new ability. With his little brother Jumaa and neighbour girl Mariam he collects some stones for the game Gololi. The aim is to throw stones on a line of stones on the ground – and to hit them. “He tried to play that earlier but he never succeeded to hit the stones”, his father Said says. Now it takes the boy only some minutes to find out how it works. When he smashes the line of stones right in the middle a shiny smile lightens up his face before he bends down to pick up new small stones. But when his older brother Ramadhan shows up and brings a ball Ramadhani forgets about the stones immediately. Football! He throws the ball into the air, watch him fall down, and then starts to hunt the ball with the other kids like mad. His mum shakes her head: “He was always so idle and introverted. And now he is so active!”
After playing for a while Ramadhani has a wish: His older brother shall show him the school where he will go to soon. Together they march there through the hot sunlight and look at the now (it is Saturday) empty houses. Ramadhani’s plan for the future is clear: “I want to go to school and learn reading!” Now there is nothing anymore that keeps him from doing so.