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Sightsavers Reports

It started with
a tuk-tuk: Shamima’s story

Shamima and her daughter Toha in Bangladesh. There's an illustrated ring of small dots surrounding their faces.

“Those of you who cannot see properly, who have cataract problems, who cannot see distance, I am saying to you, please come quickly!”

Mokhter’s voice booms out of a huge green megaphone on top of a motorised tuk-tuk as it moves slowly and noisily down a village street in Bangladesh.

“Those of you who cannot afford medical treatment, please come tomorrow at 9am to the union council office. We have arranged an eye camp for you, where you can get your treatment completely free!”

As the tuk-tuk passes people on the street, Mokhter hands out flyers for a free eye screening camp. The tuk-tuk continues driving around the village, making sure as many people as possible hear the message.

Watch the 360° video to see what it’s like when the information team visits a local village. Drag your mouse around the video to see different views.

The tuk-tuk travels through a village, stopping to hand out flyers to women.
Mokhter is part of a team that broadcasts health information to villages and cities.

One of the people who hears Mokhter’s message is Munina, for whom the news of free eye care is a godsend – her 20-year-old sister Shamima has been finding it increasingly difficult to see. Shamima has hearing and speech difficulties, and relies heavily on sight to communicate. Her family, who are loving and close-knit, have improvised their own sign language using touch, gestures and facial expressions, and even Shamima’s young child Toha can communicate with her this way.

Shamima’s eyesight has been deteriorating for the past two years, but the family doesn’t have enough money for her to visit a doctor. Her mother has spent all her savings on herbal treatments that they thought might help, but this hadn’t made a difference. So the prospect of a free eye screening is unbelievable news: Munina rushes home to tell Shamima.

Munina communicates with Shamima using hand gestures.

Shamima has learned to communicate with her family via improvised sign language and facial expressions.

Munina communicates with Shamima using hand gestures.

After visiting the eye camp and having an examination, Shamima is referred to hospital for a cataract operation. The costs of all of this are covered by Sightsavers’ Right to Health project, funded by the UK government through UK Aid Match. Although this removes the financial burden on Shamima and her family, the surgery itself is still a daunting prospect.

“Our mother was very afraid of the surgery, and discouraged me from taking Shamima to the hospital,” says Munina. “She said: ‘At least Shamima can see with one of her eyes.’ She was very afraid that Shamima might lose vision in both of her eyes after the surgery. She was really very nervous, but my brother-in-law [Shamima’s husband] told us that this hospital is really very good.”

Shamima with mother, husband. daughter and sister.

“Because I heard the tuk-tuk announcement, I was assured Shamima would be okay.”

Shamima with mother, husband. daughter and sister.

Shamima’s sister Munina (right)

Syeda Asma Rashida, who works as a project manager for Sightsavers in Bangladesh, explains that there are special arrangements in place to support people with disabilities at the hospital.

“Attendees are often very afraid of cataract surgery,” she says. “Some people with disabilities won’t have the operation if no one accompanies them to the hospital. So we have very clear instructions with the hospital authority that if any companions come along with a person with a disability, they have to provide meals and accommodation for them.”

Munina and another sister, Doha, go to the hospital with Shamima to support her and help her communicate with the staff. After two days, they return home – with Shamima’s sight restored!

“Without the tuk-tuk announcement, I would not have had any indication of where I should go with Shamima,” says Munina. “I didn’t think about taking her to hospital [before then]. I knew that there was a hospital, but I didn’t know that this sort of surgery could be conducted there.”

Asma sits outside with Shamima and her family.

“Some people with disabilities won’t have the operation if no one accompanies them to the hospital.”

Asma sits outside with Shamima and her family.

Sightsavers project manager Asma (left)

The cataract surgery has made a huge difference in Shamima’s life. It’s been much easier for her to look after Toha and help at home with her husband’s family. She’s also enjoying her hobbies of drawing and making children’s clothes.

But the impact of her operation has gone further than that – as other family members, friends and neighbours have heard about Shamima’s treatment, they’ve also been encouraged to seek help for their own eye health issues. The ripple effect of Shamima being able to access eye care is gradually spreading and affecting her family and the wider community. It’s incredible, life-changing stuff.


All images © Sightsavers/Reza Shahriar Rahman

Shamima communicating with her young daughter via facial expressinons and hand signals. She wears a bright pink sari against a green backdrop.

As other family members, friends and neighbours have heard about Shamima’s treatment, they’ve also been encouraged to seek help for their own eye health issues.

Shamima communicating with her young daughter via facial expressinons and hand signals. She wears a bright pink sari against a green backdrop.

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