Last summer, Operation Eyesight participated in Calgary’s “All Charity Festival.” That’s where we met our friend Ruby Anyumba and were once again reminded how small the world really is. You see, Ruby is originally from Kenya, and she had heard of Operation Eyesight before she arrived in Canada! In fact, her aunt, Juliana Otieno (or Auntie Julie), had received treatment at our partner hospital in Eldoret, Kenya. Here’s Juliana’s story:
When Juliana was a young girl, she had to stay home to take care of her family’s livestock while her brother (Ruby’s father) went to school. She didn’t have the opportunity to go to school so she never learned to read or write, which meant she couldn’t “go to work.”
Instead, she earned a living by making charcoal. She would use a machete to cut firewood into small pieces, dry the pieces out and sell them to others to use for cooking. She knew she got the short end of the deal compared to her brother, but she was relatively happy. At least she could work to provide for herself, or so she thought.
Decades passed, and unfortunately, Juliana’s eyesight began to deteriorate. She lost vision in one eye, then the other. Not being able to see the machete properly, she started having accidents and would often cut herself while trying to make charcoal pieces. It became too dangerous for her to work, but her pride prevented her from asking anyone for help. All she could do was sit at home, frustrated and miserable.
Fortunately, Juliana heard about Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Operation Eyesight’s partner in Eldoret. She was determined to visit the hospital to have her eyes examined and treated, but Eldoret was many miles from her village and she couldn’t afford the travel fare.
Ruby and her brother, who had both moved from Kenya to Canada several years prior, heard of their aunt’s misfortune and sent money to help pay for her long trip to the hospital. There, Julianna was diagnosed with bilateral cataract. Shortly after, she underwent surgery on both eyes, making a few more trips to the hospital for treatment and follow-up.
Thanks to Ruby and her brother and Operation Eyesight’s donors, Juliana’s eyesight – along with her dignity and appreciation for life – has been restored. “I opened my eyes and I started looking at the trees, the leaves, the sky,” explains Juliana. “I appreciated everything I used to take for granted. After that, I began to really see the world’s beauty.”
Juliana, now 74 years old, is back to making charcoal. She’s thankful to once again be able to safely work and earn a decent living. “I would rather lose a leg than lose an eye,” she says.
This past spring, Ruby had the opportunity to travel back to Kenya to visit her family. She was happy to see her aunt was doing well. “I believe that when you give, you get back,” explains Ruby. “Seeing Auntie Julie so proud and full of life was a wonderful gift in return.”
Thank you for sharing your aunt’s story, Ruby! The gift of sight is an incredible gift indeed – for both the recipient and the person who finds joy in the happiness of others. We send our best wishes to you and Juliana.