Early morning in the Nepal Himalayas. With chill water from a mountain stream, a small girl has just washed her face and is now cleaning her teeth with ash from the family hearth. She looks into my eyes and I look into hers, ... so young, ... and I'm reminded how vulnerable and precious is the gift of sight.
"Although there are 147 ophthalmologists in Nepal, around half are located in the urban areas, despite the fact that more than 90% of Nepal's blind population lives in rural areas. The effects of blindness impact the country socially and economically and of the 125 people who become blind in Nepal each day, seven are children." - The Fred Hollows Foundation.
During my time working in the rural, mountain villages of Nepal, I would see children and adults, especially girls and women, with blindness such as you see in this photograph. Either one or both eyes were like this. I learnt from villagers that this loss of sight is often caused through daily work, such as husking grain by hand, (work usually done by women and girls), - husks fly in the wind and can cut across the surface of eyes, these injuries can lead to blindness,- as was probably the case for this small child. Working in the fields, harvesting crops etc. can also cause similar eye injuries. I also regularly saw people with cataract blindness, confining them to a minimal existence.
As the statement from The Fred Hollows Foundation makes clear, 147 Doctors for eye care, mostly living and working in urban areas, is certainly insufficient to care for a mostly rural population of approximately 30.5 million.
Most villages in mountainous Nepal are far from any medical care, such as Doctors, Health Posts with paramedics, (rarely are there any doctors), or hospitals. For severe illness, usually only when a person is so ill that they may die, the sick person is carried in a basket, on a villager's back, or if it's possible (depending on how steep the path is that they must climb or descend), on a home made stretcher, trekking for several days or longer to get the person to some form of medical help. ... that is, IF a poor family can afford medical treatment,- many can't afford any at all. Sadly, there are deaths in Nepali villages, daily, often children, that could easily be prevented with adequate medical care.
So, in many cases of avoidable or curable blindness, such as eye infections or cataracts for example, be it adult or child, many people just continue with life as best they can, often suffering in darkness, with little or no understanding that their sight can be restored and, anyway, most can't afford surgery. In the daily life of remote villages in Nepal, with it's many challenges, blindness can be an extreme hardship,- even leading to premature death.
"In the developing world,... In rural areas, a family member who becomes blind changes from being a contributor to a family burden. A husband cannot work in the fields, a mother cannot walk over rough terrain to take her goods to market, or collect water, and a child cannot attend school (if that is a possibility.)" - The Himalayan Cataract Project.
In Nepal, 80% of blindness is avoidable. 65% of all who are blind, suffer from cataracts that now can be removed with a brief surgical procedure.
There is a "light in the darkness" to this story....
Please click on cover image above to read the rest of this article.
Lindel has worked as a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer
in countries throughout South-East and South Asia.
She currently lives in Nepal.