It is estimated that India is home to about 12 million of the 39 million blind people in world, the majority of whom suffer from cataract blindness. Anita, 5, and Sonia, 12, are two girls from a small rural village in West Bengal who were born with their visions clouded by darkness, with only a faint ability to discern between light and dark. Born with congenital cataracts, which means that the lens of the eye is obscured from birth, their pupils are left a milky white or grey. If the person afflicted with the condition isn’t treated when they’re young enough for the brain to recalibrate to the light, they will be condemned to a lifetime of blindness.
The condition is curable with a simple surgical procedure that takes 15 minutes, but the level of poverty in Anita and Sonia’s family hinders them from being able to shell out for the operation, which costs approximately INR 18,000. The girls cannot be left alone due to their condition, and also cannot go to school, leaving them to accompany their parents everywhere as they work in the rice paddy fields.
An organisation called WonderWork that works with local surgeons in developing countries sought to change things, however, by providing training and funding that equips the doctors to perform basic surgeries including cataract removal. The New York-based NGO took Anita and Sonia to a team of doctors based at the Vivekananda Mission Hospital, West Bengal, who were able to treat their cataracts at a cost of a few hundred dollars, bestowing upon the girls the gift of vision.
Through First Sight, photographer Brent Stirton documents what is to be one of the most critical junctures of Anita’s and Sonia’s lives, following Anita and Sonia from their home and the paddy fields to the operating table and back. He captures their small joys and playful antics, the quiet moments watching television as well as their excitement as they feel the rain fall in the field as they wait for their parents to get done. The photographs of them in the hospital are both striking and startingly personal, a glimpse into a life-changing, pivotal moment in their lives as they lay on the operating table being examined with doctors and prepare for the procedure. The photo of Anita Singh being held by her father is poignant and moving, followed by captures of the girls adjusting to their vision, and to the dawning of light.
After a few months of rehabilitation, Anita and Sonia should have their vision restored completely.
First Sight: Sonia & Anita from Blue Chalk on Vimeo.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari Image Credit: Brent Stirton