Chicken Soup: OWSP and Stevie Wonder

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Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul Article

The Gift of Sight

I will never forget the look on Stevie Wonder’s face. In appreciation for Stevie lending his name to our efforts to cure world blindness, I had presented him with a small token of our gratitude—a book.

The book contains some of Picasso’s greatest works in relief. It was created specifically for the vision-impaired. I got it at a sculpture garden for the blind in the Picasso museum in the south of France. The book is stark white, and after several pages in Braille, there are fifteen to twenty embossed pieces showing the master’s genius.

Because Stevie had always been blind, I wasn’t sure if he would be able to recognize and appreciate drawings and symbols, a skill sometimes absent in people who are blind from birth. I placed his hands on the book, and he began to turn the pages, closely examining each one.

“Wait a minute, let’s go back a few pages,” he smiled. To me, the expression on his face at the sudden recognition of one of the artworks triggered a memory from a few years before…

I had just arrived in Haiti where I was to live and work for the next few months. I was there performing eye surgery and examinations for the poor in downtown Port-au-Prince and at an outreach clinic in the small village of Leogane, about twenty miles away.

The front portion of the house where I was staying in Port-au-Prince was used as a small business for the blind, where children and some older people could work filling little stuffed animals. It was there that I first saw Angeline, a beautiful nine-year-old girl who wore the same thread­bare red dress every day.

What kind of life could a blind child like her look forward to? I asked myself. All I had to do was look around the room to see her elders at the same task after so many years.

At the clinic in Leogane, scores of people needing eye care would assemble before dawn under a thatched covering. As medical care was not available, they waited all day to be seen. I was the only doctor at the clinic, and I would see patients from morning until after dark. We tried not to turn anyone away because many of them had walked for miles.

One day, to my surprise, our last patient was Angeline. She was barefoot and wearing the same red dress. I brought her in to my examining room and found that, while she was blind, her cataract condition was treatable by a relatively simple twenty-minute operation—one that costs about thirty dollars in the developing world. In fact, twenty million men, women and children around the world are needlessly blind from these cataracts.

The following week, Angeline came back to have her cataracts removed. Everything went smoothly but, in the middle of her operation, the power went out and I had to finish the surgery with a person holding a flashlight over my shoulder. Shortly afterwards, Angeline came back to have her eye patch removed. As I peeled away the covering, I could sense her fear but then, as she slowly opened her eyes, I was thrilled by the expression on her face, the very same one that I was now witnessing on Stevie.

A few weeks later, we fitted her with a pair of glasses, and after that, I didn’t see her at the stuffed toy room anymore. On the morning that I was leaving Haiti, Angeline appeared at my doorstep. Proudly, she stepped forward in her red dress and presented me with a small gift—a face carved into a coconut husk.

“Your face was the first I ever saw,” she said, “and I will never forget it.” I couldn’t hold back my tears as I hugged her sweet soul good-bye.

As I gazed at Stevie’s book of sculptures and recall Angeline’s carving, I am grateful. For while I may have given sight to many, they in turn have provided me with something I truly needed—clearer vision.

Rick Weiss, M.D.

Travel with a Different Set of Eyes

A portion of the proceeds from Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul will be donated to the following organizations:

National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind is the largest orga­nization of blind people in America. Interested sighted people also join.

NFB members believe that with healthy attitudes and good training blind people can live satisfying lives, and they live and teach this philosophy wherever and when­ever they can. For further information, please go to: www.nfb.org.

One World Sight Project

One World Sight Project, Inc. (OWSP) is a California-based non-profit organization which works toward pro­viding sight to the world’s 25 million people who are needlessly blind from bilateral cataracts and who could be permanently cured by a simple operation that can often be performed in less than 20 minutes at a cost of $30-$50.

For further information, please go to: www.owsp.org.