In Cambodia, Seva Canada has 2 full-time field workers who travel by motorcycle for hours on bumpy, dusty, dirt roads to remote, rural villages within the province of Banteay Meanchey. Most of the people they meet are desperately poor farmers, living on less than $1 per day, struggling to provide for their families.
Armed with a simple eye examination kit, the field workers screen villagers and refer and transport those that require care to the eye hospital; ensuring that women, children, and the elderly have access to care.
By using field workers to bring eye care to the villages, Seva saw a significant increase in the cataract surgical rate in each district.
We interviewed Bunnay Reuk, one of Seva’s field workers, and asked him what inspires him to provide eye care to his people.
Q: Why did you want to become a Seva Cambodia field worker?
Reuk: When I was 16 years old, I saw a child playing outside who sustained an injury in his eye. The child eventually went blind in that eye and I felt terrible for him and his future, knowing what a struggle he would face. I really wanted to help the child but there was nothing I could do.
When I heard about Seva Cambodia and how they help blind people and people with bad vision, especially vulnerable old people I became really interested. I wanted to help people to see again.
Q: What is it about Seva that you really like?
Reuk: Seva’s compassion with regards to how they help and treat people, especially the poor and elderly, is what I like best about Seva.
Q. Why do you think field workers have been such a successful addition to Seva Cambodia’s eye care program, increasing the number of people that seek help?
Reuk: I think we have been successful because we are very compassionate and treat everyone with respect. We know how to convince people to trust us and go to the eye hospital for surgery. We also work closely with village and community leaders to create awareness of the available eye care services and notify people when screenings will be taking place. We all work together to be successful.
Q. How do you convince patients who are too scared to get sight-restoring surgery?
Reuk: I tell the patients that there is no pain with eye surgery, that the treatment and transportation is free and that the help is from a Canadian organization. If they are still too scared to go I keep going back and talking with them and try to bring someone who had a successful surgery to meet with them to discuss their experience.
Q. Are you married? Do you have a family?
Reuk: Yes, I have a beautiful wife and 2 children.
Q. What was your highest level of schooling?
Reuk: I graduated from high school.
Q. Can you describe a typical village eye screening?
Reuk: First, I talk to the Village Chief and get his permission to do an eye screening a couple of weeks in advance. Once the Chief has agreed, he and I will notify the community that there will be a free Seva eye screening by going house to house and talking to the villagers. I will also go to individual people’s homes that I already know have eye problems from previous visits and refer them for surgery.
When I do an eye screening I pick a convenient, central location within the village, like a pagoda, so it is easy for people to travel there. Once people have gathered I describe the different eye conditions and treatments with a pamphlet that includes pictures. I tell them that it is better to get treated rather than wait because it will only get worse and I explain that the treatment and transportation to the hospital is free.
Once I have reviewed the eye conditions and process, I look at each person’s eyes and do a visual acuity test. If they need surgery I give them a referral card and tell them what time the bus will be there to drive them and their caregiver, who also travels for free, to the eye hospital.
If there is a patient that can’t get to the pick-up location, I will arrange a way for them to get transported to/from the hospital. If the bus is full then I will take patients on my motorcycle to the hospital so that everyone gets the care they need.
A week after their surgery, I travel back to the village to do a follow-up visit with each of the patients.
Q. Do you have a favourite sight-restoration story?
Reuk: I was doing home visits in a village when I met an 83-year-old widow, Meas Ngoun, who was living in a broken wheelchair paralyzed in both legs due to an untreated infection during the Pol Pot regime. Meas’ daughter took care of him but he had developed cataracts and was going blind and becoming increasing depressed. He didn’t want to be a burden to his family and trouble them with his bad lot in life.
When I told Meas that he needed surgery he didn’t know what to do, he couldn’t get to the bus to be transported to the eye hospital because of his broken wheelchair. I knew how important it was to make sure that he received surgery so I spoke with the Village Chief. The Chief got a car to drive Meas and together, the chief and I carried him to the car and drove him to the hospital.
When Meas had his sight restored he was thrilled, “Seva gave me my life back!” He was so excited he wanted to see everything around him and finally watch TV. Meas, however, got the biggest, most joyful smile when he saw the faces of his children and grandchildren. “Losing your eyesight is the worst disability because you can’t see the people smiling all around you,” said Meas.
Knowing that I helped Meas regain his sight and hope makes me so proud to be a part of Seva Cambodia.