Photographer Jon Kaplan visits an eye camp in Nepal
Jon Kaplan: I flew to Katmandu, and from there took a small plane to Lumbini, which is in the central-southern part of Nepal near the border with India. From Lumbini, you get in a jeep and go about eight hours up into the hills on winding, bumpy roads. It's very rugged — narrow roads, with no guardrails to keep you from going off thousands of feet into ravines below.
Eventually, we arrive at the village. It's a very remote area, at least two hours from any medical care. The eye camp is being held in a school. There are people lined up to see the doctors — old people, infants, teenagers, a whole range of patients. The staff is taking medical histories, writing it all down, and then each patient is examined.
This whole process happens in the school's classrooms. One room is set up for examinations. In another, they're making eyeglasses, pretty much by hand. But the most amazing part is the cataract surgeries they do — also done in the classrooms. They push some tables together and set up an operating table. They have a little generator powering this special light they use while they're operating. The doctors are all robed up, in gloves just like in an operating room. The patients are also in gowns and drapes.
New Chance for a Mother and Baby
There was a young woman there, about 22 or 23 years old, and she had a one-year-old baby. This woman had been blind since she was 6 or 7 years old. Her husband was deaf and not able to speak — I don't know how they communicated. And their baby daughter was also blind since birth with cataracts. It must have been a difficult life for all of them. This young woman just looked so sad, there just seemed to be no joy in her face at all.
She was examined and it was determined that cataract surgery would help her. That afternoon, they did all the pre-op tests. They cleaned her face, wiped it down with antiseptic, got her dressed in a hospital gown. The actual surgery takes maybe 15 minutes. I watched several of them. They do the surgery and immediately cover up the eye with a patch to keep it clean overnight. It would seem hard to wait till the next day to see, but these people have been waiting years.
That next morning, I had to get back down to Lumbini. So, I got up early because I wanted to see this young woman again before leaving. We found her, and one of the staff helped her take off the eye patch. Well, the patch came off — and she had the biggest smile on her face that I have ever seen, anywhere! She could see her baby! She could see her husband for the first time! It was simply amazing — something I'll never forget.
The next day, they would operate on her the other eye. It also turned out that her baby could have its vision restored with surgery, but that needed to be done at the hospital in Lumbini. The village agreed to send somebody to Lumbini with this woman to help take care of things, but the money was an issue. Who was going to pay for the bus fare, which was something like $15? I offered to pay $15 — how could you not? But the staff suggested letting the community come up with half, so it's like a matching grant and the community will be sponsoring her too.
By now, I'm sure that the baby is seeing and the mother is seeing — and their lives are now changed forever. But without this mobile clinic, this young woman and her baby would probably never see.
Inspired to Do More
For me, it just reinforces my good feelings about Seva. Now, I've seen it myself — I've seen these people's lives. I've been supporting Seva for years and helping with fundraising, but this experience reminds me that it's not about the dollars. It's about helping people live a productive, happy and full life.
It also reinforces my feelings that there is a lot more to go. This is one village. There are thousands of villages just like this in Nepal, India, Tibet, Cambodia — all over the world. So, I'm inspired to keep doing what I can to support Seva's work. Sometimes the gift of giving is it’s own reward.