Laurie Nelson, an ophthalmic technician and volunteer with Mercy Ships, recently described her encounter with a young woman she met at one of the first eye patient selection days in Congo:
I remember watching Pulcherie as she made her way through the crowd to the screening site. She carried a baby on her back. By the way she walked, it was clear she was blind.
“How on earth did she get here by herself?” I wondered. I looked into her right eye, and was dismayed to see a white, cloud-like corneal scar that was beyond repair. Then, I looked into her left eye and saw a thick cataract. Thankfully, we could fix that through our Mercy Vision™ program.
The extent of Pulcherie’s vision was what we call hand movement—she could see a hand move, but she could not count the fingers on it. When I asked her if she had ever seen her baby, Pulcherie smiled, closed her eyes and made the shape of her daughter, Guychelle, with her hands. “I have only ever touched her and felt her,” she said. “I know her by the feel of her nose, her hands and the smell of her skin.”
It reminded me of my own story. I was adopted, and I found my birth mother when I turned 30. The first time I called her to introduce myself, she wasted no time in asking me, “Are you okay? What color is your hair?” She explained to me that when I was born in 1965, she never saw me. She had experienced many of the same unanswered questions as Pulcherie.
I learned that Pulcherie had lived a tough life. She was completely blind at 15, abandoned by her husband at 33, and left to raise her child as a single mother with no hope for a job.
Through my tears, I told Pulcherie that she was in good hands. And, the following month, she received free cataract surgery onboard the Africa Mercy.
I was there when the eye patch came off after surgery. Pulcherie first looked down at her dress and said, “My dress is orange.” She turned to her mother and me and embraced us. Looking up at the Africa Mercy, Pulcherie exclaimed, “And look how big the boat is!”
Back in her parents’ village in the tranquil shade of a mango tree, Pulcherie held her daughter in her arms. Her eyes joyfully took in every detail of Guychelle’s beauty–from her eyelashes to her tiny toes.
Recently, I visited Pulcherie. She has found work. She says that she cannot stop looking at her daughter and smiling. She says that she would love to do what I do–returning sight to the blind on a big hospital ship in Africa. And her life is now filled with joy and peace.