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When we first met her, Smriti was a sweet but painfully shy little girl who seemed to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. She had lines imprinted on her forehead from squinting and concentrating to decipher the voices around her.

Smriti had cataracts in both eyes that had become progressively worse. Her poor vision took away much of her confidence – she could no longer play with her friends or help around the house, and she had to be accompanied everywhere for fear of an accident. She lived in a one-room hut surrounded by fields, with her parents, her younger brother Imran and baby sister Takmina.

The day we met Smriti was the day before her long-awaited operation. Excited by our visit, lots of people from the village had turned up to greet us, but among the bustle, Smriti stood quietly at the side visibly scared and nervous in anticipation of her impending surgery.

On the day of Smriti’s operation everyone was on edge. As she lay on the operating table waiting for the anaesthetic to kick in tears began to roll down her face. Seeing this sweet, timid girl so frightened was heartbreaking.

It was all over in about 15 minutes. Smriti lay groggily with bandages over her eyes and her father by her side – there was nothing we could do but wait.

For most cataract operations, the results are apparent the next day. As Smriti’s bandages were removed by the doctor the following morning everyone held their breath – could she see? A smile spread across her face like a child who’d just been handed a giant bowl of icecream. She could see!

The following day we returned to Uchitpur to visit Smitri and her family. Once again we were mobbed by a band of curious and playful children from the village. But this time, there was one resounding difference. Instead of shying away at the side of the gaggle, Smriti, donning her new protective glasses, rushed out from her hut to greet us with that same infectious smile – a totally different child to the one we’d met only two days before. She was in her element pointing at various objects in the distance to show us how far she could see.

As we drove along the dusty, dirt roads of Uchitpur, we didn’t recognise a thing. We were convinced we were in the wrong place. Six years had passed and we were certain we were about to knock on the door of a completely different family’s home! Our driver tried to reassure us that this was the right place but nothing looked familiar.

We finally stopped outside three corrugated iron houses. There was no sign of the field where Smriti’s house had once stood. As we stepped out of the truck to investigate, a family came running out of one of the houses to greet us all like a long lost friend – and there was no doubting that Smriti was among them. Even though she had grown into a striking young girl, we recognised the same bashful smile of the child we’d met all those years back.

Smriti’s baby sister Takmina was now a playful six-year-old and her brother Imran a cheeky 11-year-old pulling us inside the house. The one-room hut was now a much larger three-bedroom iron home and Smriti and her family were excited to tell us about all the changes that have happened since we last visited.

For starters, Smriti could read in English. It was unbelievable to see her reading at all, let alone reading in a different language! Here’s a short clip of her reading to her mother:

She started jabbering away, telling us how she wanted to become a doctor and study medicine when she finished school. Then she told us how much she disliked wearing her glasses, and we noticed the all-too-familiar undertones of teenage resistance!

Aside from the obvious outcome of Smriti’s operation you could see the difference her newfound sight had made on her entire family. And it was evident that Smriti’s parents had saved time and money as they no longer needed to provide the round-the-clock care she’d needed before her surgery.

Most telling of all, those deep lines of tension that showed a thousand worries on Smriti’s forehead had all but disappeared.

Seeing the difference one straightforward operation can make to a person, to an entire family, is quite incredible. It was remarkable to witness how one little girl’s life can change for the better because of a donation from people like you.

 

Content written by Sightsavers.

 

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