Sightsavers stories

“Now I know what a gift sight is”

Arif and his mother sit on a bed chatting.

We first met Arif in Bangladesh in 2005, when he was five years old. He had two cataract operations supported by a Sightsavers programme in Dhaka.

We’ve kept in touch with him in the years since then, following his life as he completed his education and began working as a driver.

Arif’s operation had an impact not only on his own life, but also on his family and neighbours, some of whom sought treatment for their own eye issues after seeing his successful post-op recovery.

Although Arif still faces challenges in his life, the opportunities created by his eye operations changed his future immeasurably. Here, Arif shares his story, and his memories of his sight-restoring surgeries.

A school student wearing a bright yellow shirt smiles as he holds his right hand over his eye. There's an illustrated ring of small dots surrounding his face.

Eye health: our vision

Our Eye Health Equals campaign aims to ensure that the eye care needs of people like Arif are met.

About the campaign
Arif walks down an urban street as a motorbike with two riders passes by on the road.

“From a very young age, I wanted to drive. When I saw cars on the roads, I really wanted to drive. I wanted to drive that car.

“When I was young – four or five years old – while playing with friends, I couldn’t play properly. I had difficulty seeing properly and it hurt when I looked at the sun.

“A Sightsavers health worker who goes around the villages got my information. Then she came to our house and told my parents that there was treatment for my eye condition at the hospital in Narsingdi [north-east of Dhaka].

“So we went there and got my eyes examined. After examination, they said I need to get admitted for surgery. They sent me to Dhaka at Islamia Eye Hospital and did the surgery on my left eye, then one month after that they operated on the right eye.

“On the first day of the surgery I was very happy. I was excited – I ran into the operating theatre. Then I got on to the bed, and they put [anaesthetic] on my mouth and nose, then I lost my sense. I got afraid of that, and on the day of the second surgery, I was afraid to go in. I said I don’t need the surgery. [They gave the anaesthetic again] then I don’t know what happened until I got my senses back.

“On the first day, Joanna Lumley [a British actress who was visiting one of Sightsavers’ programmes in Bangladesh in 2005, and who Arif refers to as ‘aunty’] was there to remove my bandage. I was very happy to see her. As I liked cars, she got a lot of toy cars on my hospital bed.

“I started playing with the cars. Usually, it hurts when the bandage is removed – but I was so busy playing with the car that I didn’t feel the pain!

“First, I saw Joanna aunty, then I saw my mother and father. I was very happy. After getting back home, there were no problems in my study and no problem playing. After [my operation], I heard that my grandmother [a female relative Arif refers to as ‘grandmother’] also had eye surgery. And my grandfather went there [to the hospital] and the doctor checked his eyes and took him to Narsingdi for surgery.

Arif checks the engine of his car: the bonnet is open.

“[As I grew older], after studying for a while I dropped out. My parents tried to keep me studying, but I lost my interest. My dream was to drive cars. Then I went to Dhaka and thought, what job should I do? And then I chose driving.

“My parents did not want me to be a driver; they said this is not safe. I told them OK, I will not drive, but inside me, I wanted to be a driver, nothing else. [Eventually] I told my mother and father and my uncle that I want to learn driving. They agreed and then I learned how to drive. I’ve been working as a driver for the last five years.

“My future plan is to go abroad. To [meet the requirements to] go abroad, I had a medical examination, but my right eye result came out unfit, so I’m facing difficulties. If I can’t go abroad, I’ll look for a good job. If I get a job in a company and if I can save some money, I can buy a car to rent out and will go back home.”

“I didn’t understand as a child, but now I understand what a gift sight is. You cannot ignore the eyes, because eyes are priceless.”

All images © Sightsavers/Reza Shahriar Rahman

A boy sitting on a hospital bed, playing with a toy truck.

Five-year-old Arif plays with a toy car after his operation in 2005.

A boy sitting on a hospital bed, playing with a toy truck.

We’ve got an ambitious vision for eye care

Learn about Eye Health Equals

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