Being part of the expedition to Dakar with the Elena Barraquer Foundation has been an experience that, without a doubt, has given me vitally much more than I have been able to give it. Each and every one of the people I have met and shared my time there has taught me something. Starting with the patients, who have been an example of education, patience, abnegation and gratitude, followed by the whole team of local professionals who, voluntarily and with a very good attitude, have dedicated their time to serve as a link between the patients and the team, as well as to facilitate our work and our stay in the hospital and in the hotel (special thanks to Malik and Jean), and ending with Sister Regina, a paradigm of a vocation of service to others from a responsible, pragmatic and disciplined perspective without renouncing empathy and affection.
Special mention should be made of the team at the Foundation, with Teté and María at the head, who made everything very easy for us from the very first moment until we landed back in Barcelona and, of course, all my colleagues, whom I thank for their understanding and patience – in such a demanding and demanding environment as we had – with someone like me who does not belong in the health field and from whom I have learned a lot. I admire all of them for more than their professionalism – which is out of the question -: Belén for her ability to make me feel safe in the operating theatre and to make me laugh. To Carla for being the perfect “rookie” companion with whom I can share my worries and laughter. To Carlos for his freshness, ability to get excited and for making us laugh like nobody else. To Joaquín for knowing how to keep us in the right level of tension and at the same time generate a very pleasant work environment. To Jorge for his extreme politeness, sympathy and warmth. To Lucía for her temperance and for insisting that we extend our dinners to get to know each other better. To Manena for her courage and determination in embarking on this project. To Sidi, for his ability to always have a smile on his face and to Sonia for her contagious good vibes and her ability to create a team.
This experience has shown me two things that I already sensed: dignity, education and gratitude do not understand social position or economic resources and we all, regardless of our training and scope, can contribute to making the lives of others a little better. To want is to be able.
The most important thing for me has been how rewarding the work has been. It’s an experience that marks you. Many, many patients come in for surgery, but there are some I will never forget. Elisabeth, a tall young woman with a cartilage disease I don’t know her name, and the 17-year-old girl we used to call “the little girl” hold their hands while I pricked them and tried to give them peace of mind. The girl suffered a lot, I do not know if they had explained the process of anesthesia, pricked one eye one day and both eyes the next day I remember his little face of pain. Joaquin decided this for her own good and we all praise his decision.
Well, the summary of what I am left with is to see her in Carlos’ office when they uncovered his eyes. He could see and some tremendous tears of emotion and joy fell from his eyes. I think all of us who were there cried with emotion too.
Rewarding, therefore. To think that without being a doctor or a nurse we can all make that chain work for the Foundation’s motto of “No more cataracts”.
Manena Romero Herrera
When Jorge told me that the Elena Barraquer Foundation was counting on us for a new expedition, I didn’t hesitate for a second and told him right away to go ahead! I didn’t even know the dates or the place yet, but having our first expedition as a reference, I knew it would be unforgettable again.
The adventure always starts at the airport, meeting the people who will be teaming up with you, and also becoming family during the expedition. They are volunteers who come from all over Spain, and who come loaded with the desire to collaborate and help the cause.
Of course, there are hard moments, of tension, of back pain, of maximum fatigue at all levels, but the moment when you can see the reactions of the people operated on, when they uncover their eyes and can see you… that moment of joy, is worth the effort.
You live unforgettable moments with the people of the place that is going to be operated, their patience, their joy always, with your companions, the team work, the support when someone weakens of forces and you learn to value more what you have when you return to your day by day.
Without a doubt I would repeat.
Sonia de la Fuente Fernández
On January 4, a new team from the Elena Barraquer Foundation made up of 11 people from all over Spain headed to Dakar. In our team there are ophthalmologists, anaesthetists, nurses and also people working in other sectors, mobile phone companies, marketing or already retired. In common? The same illusion, to improve other people’s lives as much as we can. We have 7 days, the first day we set up the operating room and organize the work of each volunteer, then 5 days of surgery and a last day to collect and visit an oasis in Dakar.
Our goal: cataract surgery. Surgery banalized in our environment and that returns the smile and even causes tears of emotion to 5000 km from here.
The average time of this surgery in Spain is around 5-10 minutes, while in Africa it exceeds 15 minutes due to the difficulty of the cases and the means we have at our disposal. 15 minutes can be the time of a good conversation with a friend or family member, the time we enjoy a sunset or
15 minutes that change people’s lives. People like you and me, men and women, young and old, mothers, fathers, grandparents, children and even grandchildren. People whose every memory may be voices, smells or the touch of themselves, but not a single image for years.
Time is important, but paradoxically, not for them. Time belongs to them, perhaps it is the only possession they have and that differentiates them from our culture. They are in no hurry to start, they are not impatient with the hours of waiting and when they finally lie in your hands a full delivery. It doesn’t matter how long the surgery lasts, who is behind those hats and masks, or what they are going to do to them. At the end, at that moment, they turn to offer you a relaxed smile looking into your eyes and a gesture of gratitude that makes your back and mind hurt a little less.
So one by one, person by person, we are operating up to 350 surgeries. A number that we can’t imagine the impact it will have but in “our times” of social networking it’s like imagining that all our contacts have suddenly had their eyesight restored. Every case is special, but on this expedition there has been one that we will remember fondly. It is that of a 16 year old girl with congenital cataracts, from birth, bilaterally. When she opened her eyes the next day, Dr. Joaquin Fernandez, she began to see and after a few seconds to cry. For me that would be the summary of this journey, many moments of difficulty, of effort, of illusion and at the end a great feeling of joy, gratitude and satisfaction.
On the last day, when all the work was done, we were taken to see a project in one of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Dakar. This oasis is captained by Sister Regina, a native of León, who has been coordinating a social development project for 20 years. She has created a centre where they give cultural training (literacy, basic notions of health, nutrition…) and work training (sewing, hospitality, woodwork…) to women who today have no choice in their society. In addition, Sister Regina has created a school where dozens of children receive us with songs and dances. Children with curious eyes who taught us that we do not need any material goods to be happy and that all the time that you do not smile or dance does not count.
Thus, after 7 intense days we returned to our lives with a great new team: Teté, Joaquín, Lucía, Sidi, Carla, Carlos, Belén, Sonia, Magdalena, Alba and myself; a new vision of the world and the look of 350 people more alive.
Dr. Jorge Sánchez Cañizal
For me, having had the opportunity to go to Dakar, Senegal, with the foundation has been a MAGNIFICENT experience.
I have really enjoyed in all senses, I have been able to make a medicine where I really felt fulfilled, I could see the happiness and the gratefulness in the patients, something that unfortunately many times I have not seen in Spain. I have enjoyed the group of people with whom I have coincided. I could not have imagined that a week of such hard work had passed as if it had been a holiday. I have had too much fun, I have laughed a lot and I have been really happy. Thank you very much to both the Foundation and Qvision for giving me this opportunity and thank you very much to the whole group that has treated me so well.
It is not easy for people who did not know each other to connect so well in such a short time. No doubt if I had the opportunity to repeat, I would REPEAT and no doubt do the best and biggest publicity I can. Thank you very much for everything.
Dr. Carlos Rocha de Lossasa
Where the concepts of need, time, priority and happiness, had nothing to do with what I had before the expedition, and it is there, or here, where I realize that nothing or everything matters. Where having different languages is not a barrier, but a stronger and more felt union, where a smile, a handshake or a hug reaches a new meaning. Where motivation becomes the engine for a team to work, to coordinate, to listen, to support,… Where on a professional level I have found the true meaning of my vocation and the greatest reward for my effort. Where on a personal level I have discovered people who are excited about a common project where, despite the fatigue, our faces are always smiling in those thousands of photos, reflecting something as basic as joy.