慈濟傳播人文志業基金會
Restoring the Gift of Sight--A Tzu Chi Free Clinic in West Papua, Indonesia

More than 200 people had their cataracts removed during a Tzu Chi free clinic in West Papua, Indonesia. With their sight restored, they no longer have to depend on their families to take care of them. Better yet, they can return to work and help with their families’ finances.

A rumor goes that if you undergo cataract surgery, your eye will be replaced with a cow’s eye,” said Ruben, who used to be a truck driver until his deteriorating eyesight forced him to switch to farming. “I didn’t buy it, so I came here and had my eye operated on.”

The operation was successful and Ruben was very happy. “My eyes are my guide. Having my eyesight restored is like finding a priceless treasure I had lost,” he said with a smile.

On July 19 and 20, 2019, Tzu Chi volunteers in Indonesia held a free eye clinic in the town of Manokwari, West Papua, eastern Indonesia. This was the second time Tzu Chi had provided free medical services in the town. The first clinic was conducted seven years ago in 2012, offering surgery for cataracts, pterygium (a benign overgrowth of tissue on the surface of the eye), and tumors. The latest clinic took place in Bhayangkara Hospital. Among the 259 patients who benefited, 204 received cataract surgery. Some patients had one of their eyes treated seven years ago and were back for surgery on the other eye.

Susanto Pirono, head of Tzu Chi Biak (first from left), and Herry Rudolf Nahak, West Papua police chief (first from right), share in the joy of patients who have had their cataracts removed at a Tzu Chi free eye clinic in West Papua, eastern Indonesia.

A manifestation of love

The Tzu Chi Biak office in Papua has carried out charity work for nine years. At the invitation of the head of the office, Susanto Pirono, members of the Jakarta chapter of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association have traveled many times to eastern Indonesia to serve local needy people.

The July 2019 eye clinic was a joint effort by Tzu Chi, the West Papua police, the West Papua government, and several community health clinics in Manokwari. The various parties worked together to relieve the suffering of underprivileged people afflicted with illness. Pirono said of the cooperation: “When different sectors of society can join hands to do good deeds and give love without discrimination, a better world is sure to come.”

West Papua police chief Herry Rudolf Nahak pointed out during the opening ceremony that cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in Papua, but local medical resources for treatment are so inadequate that many people suffering from the disease are unable to receive proper treatment. This has affected patients’ ability to work and adversely impacted their families’ financial well-being and quality of life.

As the event unfolded, more than 200 prescreened patients entered the operating room in turn to have their eyes operated on. Cataract surgery is a relatively uncomplicated procedure; it takes less than 20 minutes to have the lens of one’s eye removed and replaced with an artificial lens. Most of the patients who had come to the free clinic lived in mountain areas, a long way from the town center. The long, bumpy journey from their homes to the free clinic site, however, could not deter them from coming to the event for treatment and hope.

“These patients’ eyesight is either impaired or completely lost,” said Pirono. “This has deprived them of their ability to work, and their family has had to spend a lot of time taking care of them. Hopefully after the surgery they can work again and no longer have to rely on others.”

Hope ahead

Her eyes closed and her hands clasped together, Martha Basna, a patient who had had her cataract removed at the event, said a prayer as she sat on a bench in the hospital where the free clinic was taking place: “Thank you, God. All this is happening because of you.”

A nurse set about removing the bandage on Basna’s left eye. When she was done, she held up her fingers to test the patient’s postoperative vision. “Two, three, five,” Basna called out based on the number of fingers the nurse had held up, her voice louder the more the nurse stepped back. The nurse smiled. This showed that Basna’s operation had been successful.

A medical condition called hyperuricemia (an excess of uric acid in the blood) had put Basna’s husband out of work. As a result, Basna became the breadwinner of her family. Unfortunately, she lost vision in her left eye two years ago and could only rely on her blurry right eye to see. Even so, many people advised her not to go for the surgery. They said, “What if it fails?” But Basna told them she was not afraid. “God will definitely take care of us,” she said confidently. “I’m sure it will work.”

Basna had always prayed that she could regain her eyesight. Her prayer was answered on this happy day. “I grow cabbage, bananas, leaf mustard, beans, and so on,” she said. “With my vision restored, it will be a lot easier for me to work on my farm. I’ll also be able to sell my vegetables in the market. Thank God for sending these people [the Tzu Chi medical team] all the way from Jakarta to Papua to help us.”

Firemon, 65, and Subrina, 62, brother and sister, had both developed cataracts. Their big family lives in a mountain area where the soil is fertile, and they make a living out of cultivating bananas, chilies, corn, taro, cabbage, and other crops. An endless expanse of wooded mountain land extends before their eyes when they look out from their home. The view is picturesque. However, it took a bumpy, arduous journey of four long hours to travel from their home to Manokwari for the surgery.

Subrina’s right eye had been operated on for a cataract at the Tzu Chi free clinic held seven years before in Manokwari. After that, she regained her ability to live independently and was able to continue farming and weaving bags. This time around, she underwent surgery for her left eye. Her brother, Firemon, used to be optimistic and hard-working, but after he lost his vision he could only resign himself to staying at home and letting his family take care of him. They had had to bathe him, change his clothes for him, feed him, and take care of his other everyday needs. Depressed about his condition, Firemon became a man of few words. His grandson said, “Grandpa became despondent after he lost his sight. He felt bad for not being able to work and take care of himself. He was also sad because he couldn’t read the Bible.”

Happily, his vision was restored by an operation at the Tzu Chi event, and his bright, upbeat personality returned. He smiled at and greeted the patient sitting next to him at the free clinic. “I can finally work in the field now and go to church by myself,” he said cheerfully.

A simple postoperative eye test confirmed that Firemon (second from left) had regained his eyesight.

 

November 2019