A Sight to Behold: Shalom’s Story

This photo shows a Ugandan woman wearing a headband holding her young daughter in her arms. Her daughter is wearing spectacles and has her arms around her mother.

Shalom and her mother after returning from school at Little Bears Kindergarten. Shalom, 5 years, had bilateral cataracts and received eye surgery and eye glasses from Mengo Eye Hospital, a CBM partner in Uganda. ​

Shalom is a five-year-old girl from Uganda who had bilateral cataracts. She used to be a lonely girl unable to play with her friends or go to school, but thanks to a programme funded by CBM, she was able to get the medical attention she needed to help improve her eyesight and feel like a fully included member of her community again. This is the story of her life-changing journey.

Her home is in a typical slum area in central Uganda where she lives with her mother and six other children. Her mother, Fridah, lost her job at a local car wash and was unable to find another one and so the family depends on Shalom’s grandmother who owns a small vegetable garden behind the house. Speaking about Shalom, Fridah explains, “She was not born like this. In 2016, I noticed that she was covering her eyes under the sun and was blinking a lot and also squinted more frequently. She was 3 years at the time.” Things got progressively worse from that point on. She would fall down while playing with friends from the neighbourhood until they didn’t want to play with her anymore. Fridah had to walk Shalom to school as Shalom was unable to do so by herself. Eventually though, her teacher advised that Shalom stop coming to school altogether since she could not easily read or write, saying she should come back when she got treatment for her eyes.

This photo shows Shalom lying in a hospital bed with bandages on both her eyes. Her mother sits next to her and lovingly caresses her head.

Shalom at Mengo Eye Hospital after her surgery.

© CBM/Tobias Pflanz

One of the women from the neighbourhood told Fridah about Mengo Eye Hospital after hearing about the free operations for eyes they sometimes give out. However, the treatment was not free for everyone and Fridah realised she would not be able to afford the surgery which cost 820,000 Ugandan Shilling, approximately 200 Euro. That is when Mengo Hospital Administrator, Mr. Isaac Wasswa, who manages the poor patients fund – which is funded by CBM – came across her case. Shalom was diagnosed with cataracts and shortly after, in February 2019, underwent a successful surgery paid for by the fund. 

A day later she was sent home, already able to see, and day by day her vision improved.
Six weeks after her surgery, she was back at the hospital, walking all by herself and ready to try on her eye glasses. The doctors note that this was no longer the reserved, timid, resigned and sad Shalom from before the surgery. She was now lively, happy and giggles a lot. The only time her mood changed was when she was asked to hand back the glasses, but when staff explained to her that the frames are needed so that they can make them more beautiful for her, she relents.

A few short weeks later, after finally receiving her glasses, the day has come to go back to school. She has now missed two terms because of her eyesight and as her mother locks the door before walking her to school, Shalom is already waiting outside, looking smart in her little uniform. Once in class she is able to fully participate, even writing the answer to a question on the blackboard. This is a moment of celebration, and her teacher Mercy asks her classmates to clap for Shalom, which they do as Shalom dances to the rhythm of the clapping. Looking back, Mr. Benard Okotel, a Low Vision Therapist at Mengo Eye Hospital and partner of CBM, who treated Shalom, explains “We really want to appreciate CBM for the good support they are giving these children to improve their lives so that they are able to study normally and integrate with other children so that we can achieve what we call inclusive education policy”.Fridah is more emotional when she thinks about how the surgery has helped Shalom.

I can’t believe all this is for free. Oh my God, I can’t believe it. May God bless you very much. I will always remember your goodness.
Fridah, Shalom's mother