The road to Kalima is undulating, incredibly bumpy and full of ditches and boulders to swerve round. We drive for 40 minutes up some bone-jarringly bumpy roads, then park the car and walk for about a mile through farm land until we hear rushing water, and make our way towards a fast-flowing river.

“Mr Winesi lives up there.” We’re pointed towards the top of a big hill – in the bright light we can see the silhouette of an old man moving hesitantly around the outside of a house, feeling his way with his hands. This is the man we’ve come to meet. We take off our shoes, roll up our trousers and wade across the river.

Winesi March is happy to talk to us, and as we chat a few of his family members gather around, including his wife Namaleta. He’s 69 years old, he says – or 70; he’s not entirely sure. He’s respectfully known by everyone here as Winesi. He has a contagious chuckle, and we instantly warm to him. But it’s apparent that the last few years have been tough for him, and for his family.

 

His sight has been declining for more than a decade. Three years ago he could still make out the path and get around, and was working on his farm planting and hoeing. Two years ago his vision got a lot worse, and he’s been totally blind since then.

He can’t work anymore – occasionally he forces himself to try, but it usually ends in injury: the day we meet him, he has an injured finger from tripping on a tree stump, and he has a bad gash on his leg from accidentally cutting himself with an axe. “During my free time I used to make traditional mats and trays,” he says. “I could also make handles for my hoes, for farming. I used to do all these things by myself, but now I’m no longer able to see, I’m failing to make these items.”

 

His typical day used to be full of activity; now when he wakes he waits for his family to help him, and then he sits on his mat. Sometimes he changes location, but he needs help to move the mat. If he needs the toilet, or wants to prepare food, he needs someone to guide him.

 

He misses being part of daily activities: “I am always here, and sometimes I can hear people laughing across the other side of the river. I feel like ‘Let me go and see them, let me go and join them’, but I fail to do that because of this situation.”

There are times when everyone is out and Winesi doesn’t have peace of mind. Losing his sight has knocked his confidence and he can’t relax because he worries that if someone came to assault him he wouldn’t know. “I am scared of being attacked and there not being anyone to protect me. I feel like I’m not safe.”

 

This isn’t his only fear. He worries that there’s nobody to support the family, and feels he should be able to provide for them. He misses his role as breadwinner. Namaleta and the children do what they can, but it’s a struggle, and when the food they have harvested currently is finished, he doesn’t know what they’ll do to get by.

 

A lot of extra pressure is on Namaleta, who now shoulders the responsibility of work and keeps the household running. “I relied on him so much, to provide for the family, but now he can’t do anything. I have to do everything – finding food, making sure the children go to school. It’s painful having to do both roles. I would be so excited and so relieved to get back to normal life.”

Winesi misses being able to see the faces of his family. He thinks he hasn’t seen his wife’s face properly for about 12 years. “I imagine what she looks like but I can’t remember that well.” He also has an 18-month-old grandson, Luka, who he’s never seen. When we ask him how he’d feel if his sight was restored, he laughs and tells us he’d take up his hoe and jump up and down: “I know how to dance and I will dance on that day. I will dance a lot. I will do everything possible to look for money and buy my wife a dress. I’ll go for a white dress, meaning that my heart is white, I am happy.”

 

Winesi’s been waiting a while for cataract surgery. Madalitso, the ophthalmic clinical officer who met him while on an outreach visit to the area, advised him to go for screening at the hospital a few months ago, but he couldn’t make it because Namaleta was sick and he couldn’t get to the screening without assistance. He’s not nervous about the operation; he’s desperate to get back to work and is excited about the possibility of seeing the faces of his family again.

 

The sense of excitement among Winesi’s family and our team is infectious – it’s amazing to think that after the struggles he’s had in the past few years, an operation on 8 October that might take as little as 10 minutes could change everything.

Where does the time go?! We can’t believe it’s been almost a year since that incredible moment when we watched (through our fingers!) as Winesi March got his sight back!


Remember our incredible ophthalmic clinical officer (OCO) Madalitso Nyangulu (Mada)? He stood by Winesi during the weeks that would change his life. He was there right from the beginning: diagnosing Winesi with cataracts; referring him for the treatment which he wasn’t aware was available; and he was there watching the incredible moment Winesi got his sight back. Without Mada, Winesi might still be sitting at home every day, unable to work and relying on his family for the simplest of tasks.

Mada recently went to see the Marches to see how life’s changed for them one year on. Winesi told him how much life his changed since his sight-restoring operation:

 

“Oh! Is there anything that can stop me? No! I’m very active in this society now that I got my sight back. It is the same case here at home. Right now I have already finished preparing my garden for the next growing season. I have even gone a mile further, establishing a prayer house (a small church gathering right at my home) under my leadership. You can see this shelter [he points at a small grass thatched shelter right behind his house].”

 

Before his operation, Winesi told us with he’d never seen his grandson Luka; he wasn’t able to help taking care of any of his grandchildren which for him was heartbreaking: “While I was blind, I wasn’t able to identify Luka and all my family. I couldn’t tell what Luka or the other young ones were lacking. But now I am able to identify their needs and assist them accordingly.”

When he gets time between all his chores – which he can now do! – Winesi meets up with his friends. In the two years Winesi was blind, he felt isolated. It was too dangerous for him to visit his friends without someone from his family guiding him but they were too busy working all hours to support the family.

 

Now, that’s all changed. Winesi has independence. He can visit his friends when he likes. There’s one particular friend he likes to visit – mostly to use his radio! “I have a good friend, a teacher at the primary school across the river. He has a very good radio cassette player. There I listen and dance to good music of my own choice.”

 

Mada also had a chance to catch up with Winesi’s wife Namaleta who felt the biggest brunt of Winesi’s two years of blindness. She played many roles in Winesi’s life during those two years; his wife; his breadwinner, his eyes; but now? She plays the role of his very happy wife and a doting grandmother.

“The pressure and burden has reduced now that my husband can see and take good care of himself. He is able to do farm work. Meantime we are still consuming from our harvest from the previous growing season. Our output from our own garden had risen last time around simply because my husband is a hard worker. He helps us produce more. This wasn’t the case for a couple of years that he was blind.”

 

Winesi’s son Frackson is also thankful his dad is back to his old self: “Our dad is now capable of doing some pieces of work. He gets some little income out of it. He uses much of this little income to support us at home with our basic needs like food and clothing.”

 

Content written by Sightsavers.

 

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