Maadashami could not believe his eyes when he was able to read the words on the newspaper.
More than a decade ago, the 57-year-old Sri Lankan noticed that his vision was gradually failing; he had to hold newspapers and receipts right in front of his eyes before he could actually read what's written on them. He could not even see the bus service numbers clearly and boarded the wrong bus on several occasions.
Working as a rubber tapper, Maadashami could only work in the wee hours to avoid sunlight from hurting his eyes. He was prone to fall down or hurt himself accidentally due to his weak eyesight.
Maadashami was filled with anticipation when he coincidentally saw Tzu Chi’s Fifth Large Scale Free Clinic banner and understood that there will be ophthalmology and prescription of spectacles services available. He did not know that he was actually suffering from serious presbyopia as well as myopia of almost 2000 degree for both his eyes. It was only after the eye check that he came to understand the reason behind his blur vision.
Maadashami earns less than 8000 rupee (around S$100) a month, and after paying off the expenses for his family of five, he has hardly anything left. In Sri Lanka, the standard price to prescribe a pair of spectacles is around 4000 rupee, which is already half of his monthly salary. Albeit knowing that his eyes needed to be treated, the cost for a pair of spectacles was way too much for him.
“I feel I can still bear with my condition even though I am not able to see clearly,” he said candidly.
During the two-and-a-half-day free clinic from 14 to 16 October, besides surgery, ophthalmology, dentistry, and internal medicine, an optometry team was also present to provide optical service for the locals. Two weeks before the free clinic, seven optometrists from Singapore travelled to Bandaragama District Hospital (the free clinic venue) to conduct eye checks and Maadashami was one of them.
The team transported the spectacle frames from Singapore and approached local manufacturer to prescribe the lens. They also printed Jing Si Aphorisms (Master Cheng Yen’s wise words) on the cases to urge the Sri Lankans to always 'Make good wishes, do good things, and say good words'.
In the first morning of the free clinic (14 October), more than 500 pairs of spectacles were carefully arranged on the tables, each pair representing anticipation and hope.
At 1.00pm, under the hosting of the CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore Mr David Liu, Dr Amal Harsha De Silva, Western Provincial Director of Health Services, Dr Issac Rathnaike, Deputy Regional Health Director of Kalutara District, Dr Peyera, Superintendent of the Bandaragama District Hospital, officiated a simple yet solemn distribution ceremony.
The respectful demeanour of the volunteers while presenting the spectacles – in the form of deep bows – touched the Sri Lankans immensely.
“In this world and at this current time, it is sometimes not easy to use the right methods to do good deeds, but the volunteers from Tzu Chi have done it. They flew all the way from Singapore to service our people, perform operations on them and even provided them with free spectacles. It is expensive to prescribe a pair of spectacles locally, so we are very grateful that Tzu Chi came and did so much for us,” said Dr Amal Harsha De Silva in his speech. When he went off stage, the health director joined the volunteers in singing and signing to the famous Tzu Chi song ‘One Family’, making the atmosphere warm and joyful.
Inspired by love
Standing among the crowd, Maadashami received his spectacles from the volunteers with anxiety and was surprised to see two pairs of glasses in it. He was told one is for his presbyopia condition and the other is to ease his myopia. He opened up the case with excitement and then put on his first pair of presbyopia specs in his entire lifetime. A very warm smile instantly replaced the usual serious look on his face.
“I can see things which are far away so clearly and bright now. Even the smaller words on newspaper are so clear to me now.” Maadashami excitedly read out the newspaper content at the normal reading distance.
The Sri Lankan's trip to the free clinic was not an easy one. He lives about 50 kilometres away from Bandaragama District Hospital so he had to leave his house at 4am and walk for two kilometres with a torch light followed by three hours of bus ride to reach the clinic site at 10am. The journey was a tough one (as he did not have time to take breakfast) but receiving the spectacles and seeing with a clear vision had made it all the more worthwhile.
“I am so happy. I had unclear vision for more than 10 years and when I tapped rubber trees I would accidentally cut the wrong lines. I also tend to mess things up at work and my boss would scold me. But (with these new specs) I guess that will not happen anymore. I am so thankful to Tzu Chi,” said a delightful Maadashami.
Seeing the meticulousness Tzu Chi demonstrated in its prescription of spectacles, the local officials felt compelled to carry out the service by themselves.
Referring to the large local optometrist community they could tap into, Dr Issac Rathnaike remarked, “We could bring them together and invite Tzu Chi or local organizations such as the Lions Club to sponsor the spectacle frames and lens and provide free spectacles to Sri Lankans who need it."
Over the past three years, tens of thousands of people have benefited from the free clinics that Tzu Chi held in Sri Lanka. Hopefully more people will be inspired to come forward and make Sri Lanka a beautiful country filled with love and warmth.