A week has passed, 8 days to be precise, and I can’t get out of my mind each of the days we have lived in the coastal city of Nouadhibou. From the first moment we landed at the airport of Nouakchott I found it a real cultural “shock”, which I supposedly thought I knew from reading, studying and being up to date with the news, but really one is not aware of the reality until you run into it head on.
I remember that on the third plane we took with final destination Nouadhibou, I saw a little girl with strabismus enter and I thought to myself “will she come to the clinic for a consultation one of these days? Indeed, on Monday morning she showed up to see if there was any remedy or if we could help her in any way. This little girl and her mother were not the only ones who traveled hundreds of miles to be seen.
When you study ophthalmology, one of the first things they teach you is the leading causes of blindness and cataracts are the leading cause of reversible blindness in the world. When you get to Africa that reality is tangible and fortunately it is treatable in the vast majority of patients. In this expedition during 7 days of hard work and approximately 1550 consultations (including preoperative and surgical revisions) 248 people have been helped to recover the vision lost due to cataracts. These patients came with very very low visual acuity, in light perception and some of them had not seen for years. The emotions and happy faces of each one of them when we checked them the next day in the office were so gratifying that they are difficult to describe in words. I remember a lady with an amputated arm due to an accident, who could not see beyond the movement of her hands, which made it very difficult for her to carry out her daily life, when we uncovered her eye the next day, the only thing she shouted was “mashallah”, it is an Arabic word used to express satisfaction, joy, praise or gratitude for an event or person mentioned. Another beautiful memory I have of the last day is that of a very young woman who was blind in both eyes with a chronic skin disease, when she saw the faces of the people she could not hold back her tears.
All of them showed their joy and emotions in different ways in short they were so grateful for the work done, which reinforced us more and more to try to continue visiting and operating as many cataracts as possible during the expedition. And above all, after a large number of patients seen, a language you do not understand and a culture completely different from yours, you realize that it does not matter the origin, religion or language because with gestures all human beings are able to understand each other.
The expedition also connects you with wonderful people who otherwise would have been difficult to meet and whose common denominator is to try to contribute a grain of sand. I really believe that this goal has been achieved and I feel very fortunate to have been able to be part of it!
Dr. Isabel Sendino.
May 28, 2022 is a date I will never be able to erase from my mind, my first volunteer experience. You put on your fuchsia polo shirt and go to the airport to meet eight people who will be your companions. People you don’t know at the time, but who seem to have known each other all your lives. A mixture of emotions invades you when you find yourself at the boarding gate about to leave for what you have been longing for and with the greatest illusion in the world.
The days went by and were a mixture of satisfaction and tiredness, but it does not stop you. The gratitude transmitted to us by the patients we treated gave us the fuel we needed to keep going. Each one of them was special, with a story, and we were contributing our grain of sand so that, with surgery, they could recover their vision. That is not forgotten.
All this was possible thanks to the magnificent coordination of the Elena Barraquer Foundation; for making things so easy for us. Thanks to my companions and expedition family for making this an UNFORGETTABLE experience. They were long days but full of teamwork, music and good humor, UNION IS STRENGTH! And with them, I have felt stronger than ever.
On the last day of surgery there was a different atmosphere in the operating room. We knew that we had reached the end. But we returned home happy and satisfied, after having contributed to 248 people whose lives have been enlightened again.
It is very difficult to describe in a few words what it feels like to have lived this experience. I can only say that, without a doubt, it is one of those first times that change your life.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.