In 2010 the World Health Organisation estimated that 39 million people in the world are blind, 239 million have very impaired vision and 80% of this is preventable with effective eye care services.
The Good Shepherd Hospital Eye Clinic is a very effective eye care service and a light in the darkness for blind patients in the mountains of eastern Swaziland in southern Africa. The clinic preserves and restores sight to the region and was founded by Dr. Jono Pons in 1998. The team sees more than 20 000 patients a year and do more than 1000 sight saving operations. To continue this work, they depend on the support of big donors such as Hope & Healing International, the Eswatini Ministry of Health, Rotary and Lions clubs, Vision 20/20, the German Government and individuals like you and me. And they have welcomed me and included me and many others into the clinic, the team and their lives. It's been such a blessing to me to contribute a little help and it's true that in giving, we receive!
I work in top eye hospitals in the UK and the Good Shepherd team are as dedicated as any I've worked with in the UK. The eye clinic has excellent resources for a remote eye clinic in Africa but they are limited. Despite the limitations, the clinic delivers excellent care by maximizing the benefits of all they have. The team, led by Dr. Jono Pons and Matron Senani, are committed to excellence and they deliver excellent care.
One of the patients they helped was Titus who's from a remote village. He couldn’t see and needed to be led by his eldest daughter. But she depended on income from her small shop and couldn’t be his full time carer. His wife was frail and also had cataracts. His 14 year old grandson had to juggle trying to do well at school with caring for Titus’ cows. Titus’ vision deteriorated further and he couldn’t plant his crops and he worried that he wouldn’t be able to find his wife if she got lost. After having sight saving cataract surgery his life has been transformed and he can now plant his crops, herd his cows, feed his chickens and care for his wife. And it's not only his sight that been restored, it's his dignity too. There are thousands of other good stories I could share but unfortunately there are other stories of devastating eye diseases which are just impossible to treat or cannot be treated at the hospital. But these people are still treated as well as possible, with compassion and with prayer. It's wonderful working with this team and I'm looking forward to my next visit.
“Jono, I enjoyed working with you at Good Shepherd Hospital. You certainly have things very well organized. Thank you for teaching me MSICS and the “fish hook” technique for removing cataracts. You have a gift for teaching. The accommodations were very comfortable, and the view of the countryside was magnificent. Thanks to you, Helen and your family for your kind hospitality. Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas. God Bless you. Tony”. Read more
A Swazi Experience by Matthew Knox
Coming to Good Shepherd Hospital in Siteki (near the eastern border to Mozambique) and spending time with Dr Jonathon Pons in the CBM-sponsored eye clinic was one of the best decisions I have ever made. From a medical viewpoint, the range of presentations is nothing short of amazing, and I have learned a huge amount. The patients are the most friendly and endearing I have ever met, and to see them walk unaided into the follow-up clinic after years of blindness brings a great deal of joy.
The happiness that they get from their new sight is obvious to see, but it was hard for me to imagine the full impact that this might have on their lives back at home in rural Swaziland. So, when Jonathan organized for me to visit some of these patients at home I was excited and very thankful for the opportunity.
We met Sikelela at the St Theresa clinic in Manzini, about one hour drive west from Siteki. Whereas people in “first world” countries will visit the eye specialist expecting a cure to their progressive loss of vision, most people here are naïve to the possibilities available to them. Sikelela’s job is to find people suffering from cataract blindness in rural Swaziland, and let them know that there is often something that can be done to restore their sight. Two patients that we visited that day were seen by Jonathan, when he replaced their cataracts with new clear lenses. Step into their lives for a moment to see just how great a gift sight can be…
Nelson: After one hour of four-wheel-driving outside of Manzini, we arrive at the gate of a homestead nestled on the side of a hill overlooking one of the many picturesque valleys of Swaziland. “There he is” says Sikelela as an elderly Swazi walks up to the gate. After opening the gate for us he turns and runs back, chasing after what I assume to be his grandson. “I guess he can see pretty well” I say, observing the obvious.
We sit under the shade of a mango tree to hide from the heat. From his papers I can see that his full name is Nelson Dlamini, and he is 102 years old! Before the operation he could only see hand movement with his left eye, while his right eye was reduced to seeing light and dark. Post surgery the right improved to 6/36, and the left improved to 6/18. I’ve seen these numbers before, but how much better is it from his point of view?
Sikelela translates a few questions for me. What we hear is nothing short of amazing. After 30 years of declining vision, eventually going blind, he can once again see the mountains he has loved his whole life. People from all over the valley are coming to see the miracle – a once blind man can now see. He felt he was a burden to the family, but now he can help in the fields and the family is once again able to make an income. He did not have any money to pay for his treatment, but Christian Blind Mission sponsored him and he thanks God for bringing this miracle.
After the interview I ask to take a picture for the story, so he pats down his hair and fusses over his face to remove any dirt. As a thank you for his time we then present a basic food package to Nelson and he says a prayer of thanks in SiSwati (I can’t understand the language, but I recognise “Amen”).
Lokudzinga: We arrive at the next homestead to visit Lokudizinga Simelane, a 70 year old lady who was also treated by Jonathan and fully sponsored by CBM. We are warmly greeted by Lokudzinga, as well as her daughter and three wide eyed children. “Ooh, docotela” they say which means “doctor of western medicine” (my pale skin often draws that response).
Once again we are perched underneath a mango tree and I look around, taking in another breathtaking view along with an immaculately tidy yard. Sikelela, helping with the translation, tells me that Lokudzinga is very eager to thank everyone that has been involved in her treatment as it has made a huge difference to her life. While her right eye was so severely damaged that no treatment could help it, the left eye has been improved greatly. Whereas she could only see hand movement before, she now has 6/24 vision. Lokudzinga can now help with the chores around the homestead and tidy the yard. The family has been taking in orphans for many years, and there are currently ten hungry mouths to feed. Lokudzinga is proud to say that her renewed sight allows her to look after all of these children while her daughter goes to the fields to work or into town to sell the farm’s harvest.
We thank her for her time and present her with a food pack as we did with Nelson. I blush when she kisses the back of my hand, she is once again so grateful for the help provided to her and her family.
The trip home gives me time to reflect on the miracle of sight and how the Christian Blind Mission has been able to touch the lives of these very deserving people. Where there was darkness there is now light.