Majidul featured in the final episode of the popular BBC series ‘Forces of Nature’ at 9pm on Monday 25 July. Here is his story.
Living on the delta in Bangladesh, which is dotted with ponds, lakes and rivers, is an unsafe environment for any child. But for a young boy with impaired vision, it’s utterly treacherous, with the risk of a fatal accident a constant threat.
When seven-year-old Majidul was just one, he slipped into the water and almost drowned. Soon afterwards, his mother spotted white areas on his pupils and thought the water had affected his eyes. Two years later, a village health practitioner confirmed the family’s belief that Majidul did have problems with his vision, but advised they wait until he was twelve before seeking treatment.
There is a common misconception among health practitioners who lack specialist eye-health training that eye problems should be treated when a child is older. In some instances, this delay can lead to irreversible blindness.
As Majidul’s sight deteriorated and still concerned, the family spent half a day’s wages to travel 20 kilometres to a Sightsavers-supported eye screening, where it was finally confirmed that Majidul had cataracts. He was referred for surgery.
“If my son gets well, everything – my whole world – will be filled with lights.”
Majidul can do very little for himself. He can’t play much with other children, despite turning his best hand to cricket and badminton. He can’t dress himself unless his clothes are laid out for him, can’t use the outdoor toilet alone, and can’t see well enough to read or write at school. He needs to be accompanied at all times due to the danger of the surrounding water.
It’s a constant source of worry and heartache for his parents. “Our village is very beautiful – the blue sky, green trees and bright colours people wear. My son can’t see any of it,” says his mother, Salma. “What if something happens to his father or to me? He would not survive. If my son gets well, everything – my whole world – will be filled with lights.”
“If my son gets well, it will make me very happy,” says his father, Earok. “If he stays blind, it will be a burden for us. He will not be able to have a family, and will be all alone. He wants to be a policeman, but if he is blind, he won’t be able to study or get a job.”
The day after his first cataract operation, Majidul sits on the hospital bed between his parents, clutching a fluffy teddy, waiting for the surgeon to remove his bandages. Dr Khatun does so; Majidul’s eye is cleaned by the nurse, then he is asked what he can see. There’s little reaction for a while, but when offered brightly-coloured soft toys, he reaches out for them. He piles the toys on top of each other, then giggles. It’s a beautiful sound that tells his family and the medical staff everything they need to know.
As Majidul’s eyes begin to focus, he’s encouraged to walk around the ward. He goes straight to a rug, removing his shoes at the edge. He picks up toys, placing them on the bed one by one. He’s taken outside, where his mother points out trees, people and cars to him. It’s a morning of pure joy, and Majidul’s parents spontaneously kiss and hug him as they watch him take everything in.
His second operation is another success, after which he goes outside to blow bubbles in the gardens, laughing out loud. He picks a bright pink flower for his mother. He strokes the grass and chases butterflies. The change in one week from a disengaged boy to this enthusiastic, happy child is astonishing and wonderful.
“After the first operation, Majidul didn’t speak much, staying close to his parents,” says Dr Khatun. “After the second operation, I asked him whether he wanted to go to school, and he said yes. He was different when he couldn’t see, he felt he’d never be able to go to school. But now his hopes are high. It’s as if his whole personality has changed.”
“When I first met Majidul,” continues Dr Khatun, “he wasn’t easy to examine. He didn’t understand what was happening. But now, he is a friendly, cooperative child. He’s not afraid of me anymore, he talks, laughs, tries to grab toys from me. He understands that this is a safe place and there is nothing to worry about anymore.”
Update: July 2016
Since the filming of the BBC’s ‘Forces of Nature’ programme, Majidul has been studying at Azoil primary school (class 1) and he can now write the alphabet. Previously, he studied irregularly at a school for disadvantaged children and wasn’t able to read or write at all.
Majidul likes playing football and cricket with his friends Anis, Saikat and Zihad, and particularly enjoys climbing trees. Majidul is now able to help his mother with the cooking. He cuts grass and banana trees to feed the cow, and he collects leaves and feeds his goat himself (see below).
Majidul’s parents say that although they are poor, they want him to continue his studies for as long as possible. And Majidul says that someday he wants to have a job – something that would not have been easy before his surgery.
It’s great to see the dramatic change in Majidul’s confidence since his operations and thanks to the contribution of Sightsavers supporters, we are able to continue our work to reduce avoidable blindness in some of the world’s poorest communities.
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