Ethiopia’s first high-volume cataract campaign of 2020 signaled a strong start in working toward curing preventable blindness in the country. Over the span of four days, HCP and its implementing partners performed 1,054 sight-restoring surgeries. In 2019, HCP completed 23,100 surgeries in Ethiopia and has set a 2020 target of 30,000 surgeries in the country.
HCP has worked in Ethiopia since 2008 to help strengthen the country's systems of eye care by providing training opportunities and exposure to high-volume surgical outreaches. The in-country work is yielding real results as local teams are leading their own outreaches and trainings.
HCP has scaled up its operations in Ethiopia since 2016, growing the number of implementing partners from six to 22 and doubling the number of sight-restoring surgeries performed in the country. Combined with its partners, HCP provided basic treatment and screening for over 642,000 people in 2019, compared to 387,000 in 2016.
Ari Aska sold their livestock to afford the trip to Hossana, Ethiopia in hopes of having their sight restored. Her tribe, Hamer, is almost 600 miles from Hossana, on the border of Kenya. The chief of her village kept calling to see if she could really see again because if she can, it will change their entire village.
Ari Aska is from the village of Bekegl. She spoke to Christopher Briscoe, an HCP volunteer photographer, through an interpreter. She told him, "I don't know how old I am. Three children, two boys, one girl. My oldest son feeds me. I am waiting to have my sight back." Ari has not seen the faces of her grown children since they were babies. Thanks to HCP, her eye surgery was a complete success and her eyesight was restored.
Ari carefully looks at her nails, the palms of her hands and then inspects the threads of the fabric of her colorful blanket - all in amazement and disbelief, seeing for the first time in many years - her surgery was a success.
“I became blind right after my children were born. I could not work on my farm. I had no job because I had no eyes. I couldn’t even manage my kids,” Ari said. “Then I lost my husband. During the funeral, I was crying with so many others. When people spoke about him, I didn’t know who was talking. After he was gone everything was on my shoulders. My oldest son, a teenager, herds goats and sheep. He prepared my food and put my hand in the food so I could eat.
"When they took the bandages off of my eyes, it was difficult for me. It was like a wave moving up and down. There was excitement, surprise, and sadness. The sadness came when I remembered all the years of being separated from my village and my family for so long.
"Now that I can see, I need to be back on my farm, with my animals. I need to take care of my kids. I need to be with my neighbors. I don’t know what my children look like. I need to see them. When I go back to my village, I won’t be able to recognize them. I am afraid. I am going to have to ask them, am I your mother?”
Ari Aska's journey touched the hearts of the HCP staff and volunteers who interacted with her and heard her stories. This week, Dr. Oliva was traveling relatively close to the Hamer tribe. Ari came a long way to see him, and as a thank you gift, brought Dr. Oliva a goat. In Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, giving a goat is the ultimate gift of gratitude.
We hope that the continuation of their journey will change their communities for the better, just as her village chief had envisioned.