by Elsie Walker
When people in the United States hear the word “cataract”, most probably think of a surgical procedure which comes with age and has become slightly commonplace. However, to people in Ghana, such an operation is life-changing. According to www.cureblindness.org,
in Ghana and other developing countries, malnutrition, inadequate health and education services, poor water quality, and lack of sanitation can lead to preventable blindness at any age. Once blind, a person in Ghana is considered useless. He or she can’t work to help support the family; thus, the loss of one’s sight impacts an entire family. However, the Himalayan Cataract Project is helping to change that. The mission of that project is to “restore sight in remote areas of the world”, explained Robyn Jensen, Hackettstown Rotary’s Chair for International Projects. A few years ago, the rotary took up the Himalayan Cataract Project as its international project.
Chartered in 1940, Hackettstown Rotary Club follows the motto, “Service Before Self”. The rotary does fundraisers, such as its annual Memorial Motor Madness and partnering a couple times a year with the Centenary Stage company, with proceeds going to rotary projects. Funds raised generally stay locally, supporting organizations such as NORWESCAP Food Bank, Camp Merry Heart, and the Arc of Warren County, to name a few. However, Hackettstown Rotary also takes on an international project. In 2016, it got involved with the Himalayan Cataract Project.
“We have given funds in previous years directly for surgeries,” said Jensen. According to www.cureblindness.org/cause, through innovation and special techniques, having the surgery done takes 10 minutes and costs $25. The site also shares that “Of the more than 36 million people worldwide suffering from unnecessary blindness, almost half are due to cataract – which can be surgically treated.”
Also, to help the outreach in Ghana, Hackettstown Rotary had gotten it a bus. In the United States, school buses must be retired after a certain time, but they are still serviceable. The rotary was able to get a bus donated, with the rotary paying for its transport to Ghana. The bus is used to transport patients for eye surgery and for two surgical outreaches, one in central Ghana and one in the working neighborhoods of the capital Accra along the coast.
This year, the rotary has provided $5,000, so that Dr. Benedicta Appiah-Thompson, a leading ophthalmologist at the Cape Coast Teaching Hospital (Ghana), could come to the U.S. for more training this past fall. In November, Appiah-Thompson spoke about the Himalayan Cataract Project during a Hackettstown Rotary-sponsored event. Early this past October, Appiah-Thompson and her team had hosted a high-volume surgical outreach with support from the Himalayan Cataract Project. During that outreach, sight was restored to hundreds of individuals who had lost their vision due to cataracts. At the end of five days, the team of five surgeons set a new national record in Ghana of 713 sight-restoring surgeries.
“What they are doing in is making a difference to the people of Ghana and their economy. It is fixing a disability that is so easy to fix, but has such a big impact for the people,” shared Jensen.
Jensen shared that it is “very fulfilling” to help the Himalayan Cataract Project. She also noted Hackettstown Rotary’s on-going desire to give back to the community and the group’s comradery. It is “a wonderful organization,” she said. Jensen shared that Hackettstown Rotary is always looking for new members. It meets Tuesdays at 12:15 p.m. at the Panther Valley Golf & Country Club. For more information on Hackettstown Rotary, see its website at www.hackettstownrotary.org/.