When I was thirty, I had laser surgery on my eyes. It cost me a couple of thousand dollars, but I felt it was worth it as it meant I no longer had to wear glasses or contact lenses for my relatively mild short-sightedness. If anyone asks me about it in the years since, I say it was well worth the money.
I almost feel ill when I compare that now to the millions of people in developing countries who stay needlessly blind because they live in poverty. For example, in Cambodia, it is estimated that more than 90% of blindness is avoidable. And do you know how much it costs to restore eyesight to a lot of these people? Often less than $50.
If you live in a developing country, and you are blind, it arguably has a larger impact on your life than if you are blind in a developed country. If you are blind in a developing country, chances are you will not be educated. You will have no independence. You will not have the ability to work or make a living.
Every month we donate 5% of our family’s earnings to charity – our donation to the Fred Hollows Foundation was enough to provide eye cataract surgery to more than 13 people in developing countries.
The Foundation, set up by humanitarian and eye surgeon Fred Hollows, works in more than 25 developing countries with the aim of making sure everyone, whether they’re rich or poor, has access to high-quality, affordable eye health. They are working towards a world where no person is unnecessarily blind.
After we donated the money to the Fred Hollows Foundation, we received a thank you letter in the mail, along with a neat business card containing an opaque panel. On the card is printed Look through the eyes of a person with cataracts to truly appreciate the sight you have helped restore.
When you look through the opaque panel, the world is milky – shades of light and dark are visible, but objects are not recognisable. It is a simple tool that really drives home the message that with vision limited by cataracts it would be near impossible to learn or work.
It’s pretty clear to see, with knock-on effects of increased education, employment and independence, that good eyesight is a key element in breaking the cycle of poverty.