Smriti, who lives in Uchitpurhad in Bangladesh, had cataracts in both her eyes that had become progressively worse. She had lines imprinted on her forehead from squinting and concentrating to decipher the voices around her.
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 her baby sister Takmina.
We met Smriti the day before her long-awaited operation. Lots of people from the village were excited about our visit and had arrived to greet us, but among the bustle, Smriti stood quietly at the side, visibly 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.
The surgery was all over in about 15 minutes. With her father by her side, Smriti lay groggily with bandages over her eyes – 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. A smile spread across her face. She could see!
The following day we returned to Uchitpur to visit Smriti 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, Smriti donned her new protective glasses and 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 objects to show us how much she could see.
Six years later we returned to the dusty dirt roads of Uchitpur, but we didn’t recognise a thing. We were convinced we were in the wrong place, 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 long-lost friends – 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 home and Smriti and her family were excited to tell us about the changes that had happened since we last visited.
For starters, Smriti could read in English. It was unbelievable to see her reading at all, let alone in a different language. Here’s a short clip of her reading to her mother.