Seva Canada Board Member, Karen Moosbrugger and daughter Freya in Kathmandu. ©Ellen Crystal Photography
I look down at Freya. My 10 year old blue eyed, straw blonde haired daughter is grinning shyly at the dark faces that stare at her with abandonment. She stands out like a pale giant amongst the similar aged school children who haven’t been so fortunate as to have had their stomachs filled with nutritious hearty food everyday of their lives. She returns my gaze and I see the shockingly brilliant red tika powder staining the bridge of her nose and speckling her eyelashes. The tika has become an anticipated part of the heartfelt welcomes whenever we arrive at a new destination where Seva Canada is working. As each of our Nepali hosts drag the concentrated mixture of red powder, yogurt and rice down the centre of our foreheads we have felt their appreciation spreading into our souls. The damp cold from the early morning that chilled our bones dissipates and is replaced with the warmth of their gratitude. Freya’s smile is hopeful and I know she is silently asking for permission to wander off with the children who are so desperately waiting to hold her hand. I nod and as if I had shot the starter’s gun at a road race, a swarm of giggling bodies envelops her and the small voices with lilting accents call out repeatedly, “what is your name?”
Freya and students from a school screening in Gulmi, Nepal. ©Ellen Crystal Photography
This is the typical scene at Seva’s screening eye camps, surgical camps and eye care centres. We arrive, my child disappears and I am free to absorb the impact that Seva has had in this impoverished country. Our three-week trek takes us along tortuous, narrow roads through the mountains and across the stark, dusty plains. Looking out our car window, I was often filled with a sense of hopelessness and saddened by the obvious hardships and challenges that the Nepali people face. They have no money, no means to travel and heavy disease burden, blindness being one of the largest of those burdens. And yet, against all odds, they are receiving the highest quality eye care. The lion’s share of this eye care is being provided by Seva and its partners in Nepal. Immediately following the heartfelt greeting of “Namaste” with their hands clasped in prayer, the Nepali people then break into a toothy smile and point at the Seva logo on our ball caps. “Eye openers”, they say. This is a fitting description for the eye surgeons working with Seva and curing blindness though cataract surgery.
Ladies along the road to Bhairahawa, Nepal. ©Ellen Crystal Photography
As a Canadian “eye opener”, I spend much of my time talking with Seva’s Nepali eye surgeons. I want to know if they were pleased with their working conditions or if they feel overburdened by their incredible workloads. I question them on the happiness of their families living in the community where a Seva eye care centre is located and whether they feel appreciated for all their hard work. I want to know how we can make their situation better. Their answers are a resounding chorus of positivity. They are honored to work for Seva. They love their jobs. They are not overwhelmed by the numbers of people requiring treatment. In fact, they think they can always do more. Their families are cared for and they are content. I am humbled beyond belief by their dedication, passion and endless energy. When I joined Seva I was told that its success was based on the premise, “it’s all about people”. Never have I had such a perfect example of that premise as I have in speaking with these surgeons.
Cataract surgery at the eye camp in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Deanne Berman
A cataract patient being helped onto the operating table. ©Ellen Crystal Photography
Karen Moosbrugger checking out a patient at the eye camp. ©Ellen Crystal Photography
The eye camp is winding down and the temperature is rapidly dropping. Arrangements have been made for transfer to a surgical centre, much needed eyeglasses have been dispensed, potentially blinding eye conditions have been diagnosed and treatment has begun. Hundreds of people have been screened and educated. I see Freya approaching with each of her arms looped through those of two other school girls I recognize from earlier that morning. Apparently, they taught her the intricacies of both building a house from bricks of mud as well as a traditional Nepali dance. They hug their goodbyes and the young girls reluctantly walk away, filled with the hope of one day seeing the pale Canadian girl again. I feel content in knowing that as long as Seva can continue its work in Nepal, their beautiful dark eyes will stand a chance at sight.
Eye camp patients the next morning waiting for their bandages to be removed. ©Ellen Crystal Photography
A thankful eye camp patient and his very happy wife after his sight was restored in his remaining eye. ©Ellen Crystal Photography