At 7.56 a.m. on Monday, Pulpham Ngor and her daughter, Chan Gatluak, boarded a commercial flight from Bor to see an eye surgeon at Boluk Eye Clinic in Juba. There, she would undergo successful 30-minute emergency eye surgery to correct a debilitating defect.
“I was very worried. I didn’t know it was something that could cause my daughter to lose her eyesight,” Pulpham noted, just before boarding the flight. “And as time went on, her condition began to deteriorate,” she said.
Born in the Bor UN Protection of Civilians site four years ago, Chan was destined to go blind. She had trichiasis – a common eyelid problem that causes eyelashes to grow inwards toward the sides of the eye. The lashes rub against the cornea, the conjunctiva, and the inner surface of the eyelids, irritating the eye, and sometimes causing damage. Medical experts say it can be caused by trauma.
There is light back in her life, though, as contributions from United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Police personnel manning the site and other well-meaning Mission personnel have brought joy to a hitherto frustrated single mother who had given up all hope of restoring her daughter’s eyesight.
Chan’s mother, Pulfam said she thought it was an ordinary eye irritation that made her child to be rubbing her eyes and would go away soon. “But it was not to be as her condition worsened each day and month, without any sign of help from anywhere,” she lamented.
“The interest of the UN Police personnel was tremendous. It was as if it was their own child, especially Olga Barmina [a military officer from Russia at the rank of Major] and Sozeri Soydan [a Turkish Senior Sergeant] who both led the fundraisers,” said Pulfam.
Olga noted that it was difficult initially to get help to fly Chan to Juba for the procedure, “since the agencies all said it was not an emergency such as a gun shot.”
Initial checks with medical officials in Bor called attention to the danger of Chan losing her sight, but lack of funds and support held back the procedure.
“Today I am happy and grateful that we are off to Juba, to the hospital to have the eye surgery and hopefully my daughter would regain her sight,” said a hopeful Pulpham before boarding the aircraft.
That trip and hope paid off, as back at the Protection of Civilian site after the surgery, you could see the joy in their eyes, with a now more active Chan playing and running around with her siblings and friends, some of whom she could not see clearly before.
“Here you see people who are not just here to work and go home with their earnings. But people concerned about the welfare and state of the communities they interact with,” said Deborah Schein, UNMISS Head of the Bor Field Office, who said it was a joy for UNMISS personnel to be able to help such noble causes.
Chan is one of the lucky few.
“As we speak, there are two other boys aged 10 who also have eye defects – staphyloma – that also need help,” noted Olga.
Staphyloma is an abnormal protrusion of the uveal tissue through a weak point in the eyeball due to a weakening of the outer layer of the eye.
Further checks at the Bor State hospital revealed that cases of defective eye conditions were rife in the area.