Yousuf has come up against decades-long hardships but through his determination, the support and love of his devoted wife Helena, along with a sight-saving cataract operation, life is finally looking better. Here, Yousuf shares his remarkable story.
“I have been living in this village for generations. My childhood was very difficult; I lost my parents. I started to pull a rickshaw to support my family, then I set up a shop. I used to sell tea, [and] betel leaves.
“In 1995, I was electrocuted in a thunderstorm which damaged my eyes and injured me severely. I was returning home from my shop and on the way I was I got struck by the thunderstorm. I lost all my senses. This was when I lost my eye.”
“I was lying in a field for more than 24 hours. The next day, some people who were passing discovered my body. I still didn’t have any sense. So they took me to the nearby health centre in Kaunia but they refused me treatment.
“They took me to Rangpur Medical College, but there was a strike called by the doctors and hospital staff. The entire medical college was closed for two days, during that time my leg muscles started to rot. It started to stink severely, the muscles inside my left leg were detached from the upper muscle and it was dangling; I had severe pain.”
“The other patients objected to me being there and since I was waiting but not receiving my treatment, the hospital rejected me.
“My wife Helena was with me. When I was rejected by the hospital, I thought I would not be able to survive. I thought I would die any day.
“I returned home and a village doctor put some medicine on my wounds.
“The amputation happened in the courtyard, in my home.
“He told me my leg had already been amputated from the inside, so he cut that leg. After several days my wounds got infected and I was taken back to the hospital, they admitted me to another clinic where they treated the wound and I gradually recovered.”
Despite losing all vision in one of his eyes and losing one of his legs, Yousuf’s disabilities didn’t hinder his determination to work. Using crutches to support himself, he continued to run his shop. But from 2003 he started to experience problems in his remaining eye.
“For 18 years, I could not actually see anything properly. I lost vision in my right eye; I could not see anything, I used to stumble. I went to several eye camps but the doctor told me my right eye is permanently damaged, so they suggested that I carry on and try to cope. So I believed that and didn’t seek any further treatment.
“I tried to run my shop, but I faced several difficulties, many customers took things from my shop without my permission and without paying. I also could not detect what they took, so I started to incur heavy loss. I decided to rent the shop out and now am forced to lead a very poor life. I hardly get two square meals per day.”
“My daughter and her husband live in Dhaka; she works in a garment factory and he pulls a rickshaw to support my family. She has two children. I have to look after them and we are living a very poor life now.
“I had to seek help from my wife, or if she was not close by I had to touch walls, trees, anything around me to walk, so that was the most difficult [thing]. She used to carry me around and beg for food. In that difficult time my relatives did not provide any support. My brother and his family live next door but they’re also very poor and have to sell their manual labour.
“After 18 years, one day I heard that there was an announcement through miking. They were saying that anybody could have a free medical treatment for their eyes.”
“Through curiosity, I went to the screening camp and I noticed that Mr Karim [inclusion officer at a Sightsavers partner hospital] was there. He is a very good friend of mine. He used to work in the social welfare office and he knows about my accident; he used to visit my shop.
“When Mr Karim noticed me, he took me to the doctor who examined my eyes and he said that it could be cured if I have a surgery. I told him that if you bring my eyesight back I shall be really very grateful because I have not seen anything for more than 18 years.
“My surgery was conducted in a two-storey building, in the upper floor, and after the surgery my eyes were bandaged. I was carried up to the second floor with my wife to have the bandages removed. I’m really indebted to her.”
“I’m feeling really well, really good now because I can see everything properly. Even if I am starving, like I don’t have any food in my home but still, I am happy because I can see everything clearly. Before surgery, I used to stumble. I used to fall frequently; I got injured but now at least I can walk on my own – that makes me really happy.
“I hope that these people will continue their service. I expect that they will continue their work and they will treat more blind people, people with visual impairments and bring them their eyesight back.”
Yousuf’s operation and Mr Karim’s work are funded through Sightsavers’ Right to Health project, funded by the UK government. The project ensures health services are accessible for people with disabilities and other marginalised groups.
Note: This interview took place in February 2020, before any cases of COVID-19 were reported in Bangladesh. Programme manager Asma updates that Yousuf and Helena are doing well.