Sightsavers Reports

“Vision is vital. When you can see everything, you can do anything”

Zamurrad sits on her bed at home in Pakistan after receiving cataract surgery.

We first met 55-year-old Zamurrad, from Rawalpindi in northern Pakistan, soon after she lost her sight to cataracts.

Even before her sight deteriorated, Zamurrad, her husband Tariq and their eight-year-old daughter Rania had very little security. They lived in a house owned by her brother-in-law: the fear of being asked to leave was constantly hanging over them, and Tariq’s work as a labourer was never guaranteed.

But Zamurrad was happy managing the home, selling her knitting to supplement their small income and taking care of Rania.

When Zamurrad developed cataracts, her vision deteriorated and her life ground to a halt. She struggled to do anything for herself or her family and she was scared to leave the house. Tariq, concerned for her safety, stopped working to look after his wife and daughter. They had to rely on the goodwill of neighbours to survive, as their other family members were unwilling to support them.

“Sometimes I feel like running away”

“I can’t do anything,” Zamurrad said. “I just sit all the time. I am no use to my family.”

“My husband was at work before my eyesight went; I cooked for him and my family, cleaned the house, washed clothes and utensils and did some stitching. I used to go to the market on my own. Now I cannot go out because of my eyesight. I fell down when I went out a few months back and I haven’t tried to go out since.”

Not being able to care for her family was also making her very depressed. “I spend my day lying on the bed. I am always thinking and worried about my health and my helplessness. I think about my eyesight and when I will see this world again. I also think about life after death and sometimes I feel like running away, running from these surroundings. I want to get out of this situation.”

A chance for free cataract surgery

Zamurrad was frantic with worry, but one day she heard from a neighbour that operations were available for free at a Sightsavers partner hospital. “My neighbour got treated at the hospital,” said Zamurrad. “I came to know that there was hope, that my eyes could be treated without any expense.”

But money was still needed to get to the hospital. “We were empty handed,” Tariq explained. “We didn’t have any money for transport – the return fare is about 300 rupees each [about £2] and we didn’t have the money.”

After a few months of near total blindness, Zamurrad couldn’t stand her situation any longer and she persuaded Tariq to go to work for a few days, promising she wouldn’t move while he was out. He agreed and managed to scrape together the fare for the journey.

Seeing her daughter’s face once more

The couple finally made it to Sightsavers’ partner hospital, LRBT, where they received the good news Zamurrad could have an operation, and her face lit up. “They said my eyesight will come back and I will be alright – I felt happy when they told me this. I will do my job then. Now we are helpless and relying on everyone else, but after this operation I will do everything for myself. I feel happy that I will overcome all this.”

The following day, Zamurrad’s daughter Rania was by her side as her bandage was slowly peeled back and her eye examined. As the doctors moved out of the way, a smile spread over her face and she turned to look at her daughter. Immediately she pointed out all the details she could see, amazing her family, who could barely believe her vision had changed so quickly.

“When the bandage came off I saw a very beautiful face: Rania,” Zamurrad recalled. “She was so beautiful: when I looked at her face I thought she had changed a bit.”

Zamurrad sits with her daughter Awan, smiling.

Hope for the future

The smile remained on Zamurrad’s face when she returned home a few days later: she grinned as she moved about confidently, talking about all the things she could do and how their lives are going to change.

“I will do stitching and knitting, I will make sweaters and caps for my daughter,” she said. “I’ll manage the kitchen and home, do cooking, cleaning, washing. Now I can go out, I will go to the market and see my friends.

“My husband has helped me a lot, but now I will look after him and he will go to work. When he returns in the evening I will see him with a happy face.”

Tariq was pleased to see the change in his wife too. “Before, she was tense all the time,” he said. “Now she is happy, she is smiling.”

Zammurad prepares vegetables in her garden after successful cataract surgery.

One year on: a life transformed

A year after her surgery, we have the chance to catch up with Zamurrad and find out how life has treated her following her operation. She talks easily about how life has changed. “When I was not well and I had this cataract, my husband used to do everything for me,” she says, recalling how worried she was when she lost her sight.

Her transformation has been profound. At the time, she was quiet and seemed to have lost her strength and confidence. Today we meet a happy, smiling woman who is eager to talk about everything she can do and demonstrate how she takes care of her home and family. “I can see everything clearly: I’m very happy and I do all my household chores now,” she enthuses. “I clean the house and I cook and I do everything and I don’t need anyone else helping me.”

Zamurrad’s cataract surgery hasn’t just affected her life, but also that of her daughter and husband. It was Rania who used to support Zamurrad when she needed to leave the home.

“She is the one who used to take me everywhere because I couldn’t see, so she used to hold my hand and take me everywhere,” Rania explains. “Now I make braids for her, I do everything for her. I take care of her now.”

She holds up a dress she has made for Rania. Zamurrad is clearly a talented seamstress, and it’s easy to understand how she must have felt when her eyesight no longer enabled her to pursue this hobby. Now she’s filled with pride at being able to make clothes for her daughter again.

Tariq also seems visibly at peace. “I am relieved now that she can see, because when she couldn’t see I had to do everything. But now she can manage on her own so I’m relaxed and I’m relieved.”

“I am the happiest person to see her so happy. Now I know we will have no worries.”

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