In Zaria city, a bustling metropolis of more than 700,000 people in Nigeria, there’s a close-knit community of people who are blind or visually impaired.
The Ungwan Makafai community (which loosely translates as ‘community of the blind’) is home to a family consisting of one man, his three wives and 12 children. Nearly every member has experienced visual impairment.
One of the wives is Amina. She and six of her seven children have had eye surgery to treat cataracts. They’ve had so many referrals to the eye centre that it’s like a second home to the family, and the health workers have become their friends. Amina has also become an informal ambassador for eye health within the community. She shares her experiences with others and encourages them to seek support.
Amina needs another operation to correct ongoing eye issues, but has been reluctant to do this as she wants to prioritise her children and make sure they have every opportunity to thrive.
Education is the highest priority for Amina. She’s had to earn an income by begging for much of her adult life and is determined that her children should be able to go to school, grow in their independence and give themselves the best possible future prospects.
On World Sight Day, Sightsavers launches its Eye Health Equals campaign to ensure that the eye care needs of people like Amina and her family are met.About the campaign
“I was born with this eye issue. Initially I didn’t really know I had an eye problem until school, and I realised that I couldn’t see the board from afar. Now I’m grown, I see but I don’t see clearly. I can’t decipher colours and I don’t see things that are far from me.
“One of the tasks I find difficult is washing, because sometimes I don’t see clearly and someone would have to tell me it’s not done properly; the clothes I’ve washed are not properly clean. Bringing up my children and instilling morals – it’s difficult due to this eye problem.
“I haven’t sought medical help because the money we have, we use to feed the children and to enrol them in school because we want a better a future for them. With education, a child will be able to attain anything. We don’t want them to end up the way we are, begging.
“I knew I had this eye problem and [the children’s] father had this same condition. So, after I gave birth to my first daughter, I asked my husband’s sister to check if the child has this eye defect: she said yes. I told my husband that we needed to take the baby to the hospital. They referred us to the eye centre in Kaduna.
“Since then, when I have given birth, they check the eye pupil. They will tell me the black part has a white layer covering it. So that’s how we know when we take them to hospital. I don’t want them to grow up with this eye ailment – I want them to go to school and be able to fend for themselves.
“I’ve been attending the eye centre for over 14 years… I appreciate them because my children can do a lot of things now. They can read, they can write and they can see things from afar.
“The importance of sight is that first, they can go anywhere without help. Secondly, they do their chores and thirdly, they can go to school. My greatest dream and aspiration is for my children to go to school and be something in the future.”
“We take the children to general hospital. From there we get referred to the eye centre. Due to financial constraints, they will give us a form and tell us: “Okay, there is an organisation, Sightsavers, that is responsible for free surgery.
“I am very happy because my children can attend mainstream school now. If it were not for Sightsavers, they would have attended a school for the blind. But materials are not available in Nigeria for blind people, and to give training to a blind child is very expensive.
“But my children can afford to go to school now because of this organisation. So, I am happy.
“My wish is for my children to grow up and help other people. We want a blind man’s child to be able to become president, to be able to become governor in the future.”
“I’m in school, in primary four. I realised when we were in school and there was something written on the board, I could see other children writing but I was not able to write because I couldn’t see. I would sit down and cry, but when I remembered that was how God created me, I would clean my tears and cheer up.
“I was not happy. I felt very sad seeing some of my siblings facing the same issue as me. Some can’t see and some can see.
“Before the surgery, I didn’t see at all. But now when I sit in front, I can see what’s written on the board. So there’s a big difference. I am very thankful to God for my ability to see better now. I feel happy.
“Now I can keep the Quran on my legs and be able to see what’s written. Then, I couldn’t even help with house chores at all, but now I can.
“I want to be a doctor so that I can help people just like me. I want to become an ophthalmologist.
“I didn’t know I had an eye condition. I grew up going to the hospital frequently and I asked my mother: ‘Why is it that I am always the one being taken to the hospital and other children are not?’ That was when she explained to me that I have an eye condition.
“When I had surgery, I was less than a year old. [Years later] at school I noticed I couldn’t see far off and couldn’t see the board. I told my mother and she took me to the community nurse, who said: ‘Okay, they are going to give you glasses.’
“When I see other children go about their lives normally, it makes me sad. So I am happy my siblings have access to eye care because it gives them the opportunity to live a life just like other people.
“I want to become a doctor when I grow up because I want to help people – I want to become a paediatrician.
Our mother has helped us by teaching us good morals and teaching us things we don’t know. She has taught us how to wash our clothes and how to do the dishes.
“All I have to say is thank God for giving us a mother who loves us so much.”
Dr Moira Chinthambi received a Sightsavers scholarship to train as an ophthalmologist and now works on our inclusive eye health programme in Malawi.
Alinafe Zaina is studying clinical ophthalmology in Malawi with the help of a scholarship provided by Sightsavers’ inclusive eye health programme.
We’re working with partners in Cameroon and Senegal to ensure people with disabilities are able to take part in every stage of the political process.