International Rescue Committee (IRC)

The IRC helps a little girl see

May 23, 2011 was no ordinary day for 10-year-old Tigist Bogale. It was the day her life changed forever — the day she had the operation that gave her sight for the first time. 

Like Tigist, half of the approximately 40,000 children in Ethiopia who are blind suffer from cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye. In many cases, their sight could have been saved had they received medical attention in time. Although the treatment for cataracts is relatively simple and inexpensive, poverty puts it out of the reach of most families here.
Children who cannot see become especially dependent on other people. They are also more likely to become malnourished and sick, and to die at an early age. That’s why the International Rescue Committee has been traveling to impoverished communities around Ethiopia to find children with cataracts and help them.
I met Tigist in her village in Benishangul-Gumuz, a remote region about 700 km (435 miles) west of the capital, Addis Ababa.  Tigist’s father, Bogale Getahun, is a security guard in a government office and her mother, Zemed Tsetegn, is a housewife. 

Bogale told me they knew something was wrong with their daughter when she was just seven months old.
“There was this strange spot in her eyes," he said. "We took her to see a doctor, and he told us she needed surgery in Addis Ababa. But we couldn’t afford it. She got worse in time and, eventually, completely blind in both eyes.” 

Tigist also has a hearing problem, which makes speech difficult for her. She would stay home every day while her siblings went to school, relying on her parents for everything — including eating and using the toilet.
Fortunately, when I examined Tigist, I found that her cataracts could still be operated on. I brought the little girl and her father to Addis Ababa for the procedure.

Just two days after recuperating from surgery Tigist was exploring the hospital with her growing vision, her reactions a mixture of shock and joy. As she got used to the light she started to laugh. When she saw her own shadow for the first time she shrieked in surprise. 

Three days later Tigist was able to go home, where she saw her mother’s face for the first time. Zemed couldn’t stop crying.  

Bogale, too, is overwhelmed by their daughter’s happiness and new-found independence.

“I can’t wait for her to start school next year,” he said. 
Bayleyegn Birhanu is the IRC’s blindness prevention coordinator based in Addis Ababa.

To Help

Your donation to the IRC today can make a tremendous difference in the life of someone in need. Please donate and your gift will be matched-dollar-for-dollar by special friends of the IRC until December 31, up to a total of $1.7. million. 

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