Tuesday, June 14, 2011


A couple of weeks back I volunteered at an eye camp in Kisarawe organized by the Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania. Kisarawe is a rural village about an hour west of Dar es Salam.

Bilal hold eye camps every month all over Tanzania where they provide free eye treatment to the less privileged.

They check for and dispense distance and reading glasses, prescribe optical medication, and offer free cataract operations,

We left Dar at 7:30 in the morning and after a bumpy accent up the hills that decorate the outskirts of Tanzania’s capital, reached Kisarawe at 8:45.

Our camp was based at a rundown school up in the hills so with classrooms as our offices, we set up.

Bilal has been doing this for the past 25 years and their experience was apparent with their efficiency.

We had a pharmacist, two opticians, a doctor, and a handful of volunteers, myself included, in our team.

After registering at the front desk, patients would have their eyes checked by the opticians. The opticians would then prescribe glasses, medication, or diagnose more drastic treatment.

Me and my brother were stationed in the glasses and medications dispensing room.

Patients would come to us with their filled forms and we would check if they needed glasses. There were several boxes of ready-made eye-glasses lined against the walls with powers ranging from -12.00 to +12.00.

In however much broken swahili we knew, me and my brother would tell the patients to sit and wait (subiri kidogo bwana!), get them the right glasses, put it on them, tell them to read a bit of text (somaa bwana), and ask them if the glasses are OK (mzuri bwana?).

Bwana means ‘dude’.

Of course there were volunteers helping us out who knew full swahili as well.

It was such a satisfying feeling when we put a pair of glasses on a patient, and they took a look around the room as though they were seeing properly for the first time.

Mzuri sana!” they would exclaim sometimes with a wide smile on their face. Priceless.

Some patients had cataracts in their eyes. This when the lens of the eye is clouded, thereby not allowing the patient to see clearly.

A cataract operation is the solution to this problem. What happens in a cataract operation is that the surgeon will remove the clouded lens from the eye, and replace it with a new, artificial one. Sounds pretty scary, eh?

We had a doctor by the name of Dr. Dilawar positioned at a nearby hospital, and sent any patients at the camp that needed a cataract done there.

Later we visited the hospital where I got to see a cataract operation first hand. Gulp.
After applying local anesthesia to the eye, the patient was covered in green cloth while Dr. Dilawar got to work.

With the aid of a microscope, he made a small incision just above the pupil, coolly removed the rotten lens (which is usually a sickly light blue in colour), inserted the new lens, stitched the incision with the thinnest of threads, and voila, Dr. Dilawar had just saved somebody’s vision.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro this coming Monday.

Should I be training instead of having triples of everything on the dinner table? I’m not sure, but I’ll find out in a couple of weeks time – Kili has a success rate of 40% and a death rate of 10%!


4 ½ - minutes in which Dr. Dilawar boasts he performed his fastest cataract operation

579 – patients we treated in total at the eye camp

5895 – height of Kilimanjaro in meters.

9000 – number of cataract operations Dr. Dilawar reckons he’s performed to date.

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