Field Notes: Somaliland
In March, HCP Cureblindness joined local and international teams to conduct a high-volume cataract surgical outreach at Hargeisa General Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland. The need for quality eye care in Somaliland is significant. This collaboration with Australian Doctors for Africa, DAK Foundation, and Takullo charity resulted in 303 cataract surgeries with the hope that this partnership model can help build surgical capacity in the country. Christopher Briscoe, renowned photographer and long-time HCP supporter, joined the team to capture photographs and stories of the outreach. Below is one of the many amazing stories he shared:
Story and Images by Christopher Briscoe
There is a nearly forgotten spot on the Horn of Africa called Somaliland – a country of parched landscapes and camel culture, where the only bursts of color come from the flowing hijabs of Muslim women.
Despite facing the worst drought in 40 years, with over 40 million people facing severe hunger and water shortages, the people here carry on. Somaliland is a country where the only constants are resilience and determination.
Amidst the daily grind of survival, there are stories of hope and perseverance that defy the odds. A young teenage boy’s transformation in a Hargeisa hospital room is one such story.
17-year-old Mubarik sits in a squeaky chair, waiting for a doctor. The dimly lit room is crowded with dozens of other patients – all waiting to have their eye bandages removed. A doctor, wearing a black Niqab head covering, works her way through them. She first carefully peels back the white bandages, then inspects the results with the light from her cell phone. Mubarik’s turn is next.
The echoes of bullying classmates rush to the forefront of Mubarik’s memory. “Why can’t you see?!! Your eyes are strange!” He has kept his hurt bottled up inside for years.
Mubarik waits in anticipation as his bandage is removed, then opens his eyes.
Mubarik looks into the distance, covering one eye, then the other, just to make sure. He can hardly believe that the years of pent-up suffering have been washed away in a simple, 15-minute surgery. A wave of relief and gratitude wash over him as tears pour down his face.
But Mubarik’s story is far from over.
Later that afternoon, I have the honor of visiting Mubarik’s home with Abdulkadir, HCP’s project coordinator in the region. A tall Ph.D. student with a kind smile, Abdulkadir has become my translator and valued friend.
We're greeted by a large group of smiling children, yelling "Cadaan! Cadaan! (Pronounced Adaan-white man! white man!"). Mubarik is waiting for us too, alongside his siblings and mother. As soon as I bring out my camera, the teenage girls – dressed in colorful hijabs – dart behind the hanging laundry, giggling and hiding their faces.
Despite the humble surroundings, I can't help but feel a sense of awe and admiration for the resilience of Mubarik and his family. I'm overcome by a feeling of reverence for the beauty of the human spirit that thrives even in the most challenging of conditions.
The Gift of Sight
Abdulkadir translates. Mubarik and his mother gush about how happy they are with his new sight. Meanwhile, I prepare to give Mubarik’s mom the only real gift I have to give.
I line everyone up in front of the doorway for a family portrait: though it’s not clear who is family and who is a visiting neighbor. But it doesn’t matter. Everyone is overjoyed for this new chapter of Mubarik’s life to begin.
After a few shutter snaps, I yank my tiny Polaroid printer from my pack. The kids are enthralled as the printer whirs to life. They sense that something important is about to happen and quiet down.
In a few seconds, the magic happens. A small photo edges out of the printer, provoking claps and cheers. I hand the image to Mubarik’s mom. She cradles it in her cupped hands, scanning the image and looking carefully at every face. She stops when she sees her son.
In the photo, Mubarik hangs on his brother’s shoulder, not quite sure where to look. Perhaps he’s thinking that just a day ago, he wouldn’t have been able to recognize the faces of his family and friends. I wonder if he remembered his own until today.
As Mubarik leans in to see the picture in his mother’s hands he beams. His whole community does as he looks at them each with clear, happy eyes.
You Make This Work Possible
This moment is a culmination of Mubarik’s long journey to regain his sight. It’s a testament to the resilience and determination of a young boy and the unwavering support of his loved ones. It is also a testament to the crucial role that organizations like HCP and the donors who support their work play in curing cataract blindness on a global scale.
Mubarik’s story is a reminder of the transformative power of compassion, perseverance, and the gift of sight.
Photos courtesy of Christopher Briscoe