This blog post was written by Lauren and Claire Mortifee, daughters of Peter and Nancy Mortifee, about their recent experience with Seva in Cambodia in January of 2014. It also was posted to Seva’s blog (http://blog.seva.ca).
Our Seva Cambodia adventure has been rewarding, inspiring, and frankly…wild. Leaving Vancouver on a rainy and cold January morning, we had no idea what we were in for.
Upon arriving in Cambodia it was immediately apparent how much more difficult being blind in a developing nation is compared to being blind in North America. Our first day of attending eye screening camps led us down the bumpiest dirt road either of us had ever been on. It really gave us an appreciation for the lengths the country people have to go to to access the luxuries of even the small nearby town.
On the first day of eye-screenings it was tough to know what to do with ourselves as mere witnesses to the screening process. While staying out of the way of doctors and photographers, we were fascinated just observing all the new and different characters that were the Seva patients. As the eye screenings progressed, we found ourselves more and more comfortable interacting with the Cambodian people, with the aid of our amazing translators. Feeling some of the first connections with people was incredibly touching – the gratitude they expressed was at times overwhelming. Since many of the people we were communicating with were only able to see shadows and faint outlines, they found out about us by holding our wrists and hands.
We were fortunate enough on the last day of eye screenings to visit a local woman’s home. She explained to us what her life was like without the use of her eyes. She found it difficult to carry out daily chores such as boiling pots of water or sweeping her floors, activities we so easily take for granted. She would often end up hurting herself or simply being unable to contribute to her home like she desired to. Her husband had received a cataract surgery from Seva just a year before so she knew it was safe and reliable – she was very excited.
The most powerful experience of the trip was being at the eye surgery hospital and seeing the brave, familiar faces finally go under the knife. You could feel the anxiety in the waiting room, and yet no one complained or showed any impatience. They didn’t even ask questions as they came into the operating room.
At this point in the trip we felt fully comfortable striking up a conversation with anyone. It was great to connect with the patients and have them know we were supporting and encouraging them on their entire journey with Seva. The Cambodian people were nothing but grateful and graceful. We will never forget their faces when the bandages came off – the moment they were given their independence and their lives back with the gift of sight.
Upon settling back into Canadian life, we feel such deep gratitude for the many kinds of bounty present in our communities. The courage and hope the Cambodian people shared with us was infectiously inspiring. This has truly been an astonishing experience – we are forever grateful for the genuinely life-altering work that Seva does. Long may it continue.
– Claire & Lauren Mortifee