I only had one more patient to see in the wards. The equatorial heat was starting to get to me, but I could not see Papa Marcel anywhere! ‘Has anyone seen Papa Marcel?’ I asked. ‘Doctor! I am here!’ I could not believe it! This man looked nothing like the Papa Marcel I knew! Before his operation, he was quiet and downcast. Now, only three days after his operation, he was glowing and full of life. Our eye centre in the Republic of Congo is like a make-over reality show. When sight is restored, lives are transformed. Our patients often say, ‘Thank you for giving my life back.’ They re-discover their independence and livelihood to support their families. Many even look younger! Their relatives also receive a make-over. Released from caring for their blind loved ones, they can return to work and study. It is very humbling to make a lasting difference in a country where living is by no means easy to begin with. 54% of Congolese live in absolute poverty i.e. less than USD1 a day. Globally, four in fi ve blind people are suffering needlessly because their causes of blindness are preventable or treatable. Half of them can see again through one-off cataract operations costing as little as £50.
I recently had the privilege of participating in an international eye health conference represented by 1600 delegates from 86 ountries. A world-renowned expert, whom I greatly admire, gave a talk on how to choose which charity to support. I shifted uncomfortably as it soon became clear that our project was a shining example of what not to invest in – logistics difficulties, language barriers, uncooperative bureaucracy etc. Experts told us that we had ‘picked the wrong country’ because it was too hard. We live in a world where we want fast results and value-for-money. Because of that pressure, people who live in the worlds hardest to reach and to work with places are at risk of being neglected. My heart burned to speak up for those orphaned by international aid because it would cost more money, time and efforts to help them. But I was petrifi ed. They speak so eloquently. They have training, experience and titles under their belt. Who am I? - Just a girl from a small unknown charity. The truth is that I don’t like to stand out. I am scared that people will think that I am not good enough, or if they think that I am good enough, I am scared that they will think that I am proud. Then I remembered: it is not about me, it is about those in need. So I went to the microphone. With trembling feet, sweaty palms and a racing heart, I spoke up.I am still scared but I am finding my voice.
Dr Joyce Samoutou (UWC Atlantic College), class of 1995