We met Poufia on the island of Savai'i, 80 kilometres from Apia, the largest city in Samoa.
Poufia was a chief of his village, respected and loved. A local legend who was known for his hard work, his sense of fun and his good deeds, he was fit and active… and starting to go blind.
His first visit to the local eye clinic was not encouraging. The nurses could see early cataracts, but there was nothing they could do for him, as there was no permanent eye doctor in Samoa, let alone Savai’i at the time.
Poufia’s condition worsened progressively, until he became blind in both eyes. With that his life changed. He stopped working on the farm, a labour of love for this sprightly 80-year-old. No more regular card games with his friends or seeing the other villagers, who held him in such high regard.
Mostly he was looked after by his granddaughter. A wonderful bond developed between them, but her sadness was as great as her grandfather’s.
As she told us, when we first saw him, “he does nothing, just stays at home and sleeps all day”.
Early last year The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ was able to send an Outreach team to the island of Savai’i. This was the first locally-led Outreach, with Samoan eye doctor Dr Lucilla Ah Ching-Sefo supported by our Medical Director, Dr John Szetu, from the Solomon Islands. Dr Lucilla was trained at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji, made possible with support from generous Kiwis like yourself.
One of the hundreds of patients we saw at this Outreach was Poufia, now totally blind for ten years. Despite this long ordeal, we could not believe his positivity and optimism.
The Outreach was so busy that Dr Lucilla and the team were only able to operate on one eye. This is the difficult decision that the team has to make, it is the sad reality of a busy Outreach.
The cataract operation itself was not particularly difficult; what left such a mark was the extraordinary transformation in Poufia.
When the bandages came off, his whole face lit up with radiant smiles. His grin was extraordinary, he seemed ten years younger. He was cracking jokes with the nurses and teasing his granddaughter by pretending not to recognise her. We are privileged to see heart-warming scenes like this quite often, but few have been so totally joyous.
Because the first Outreach was so busy, Dr Lucilla and the team made plans to return.
Six months later, shortly before Christmas, a second Outreach team restored the sight to Poufia’s other eye. Poufia almost seemed more excited by this operation - he even danced to celebrate when his bandages came off.
Christmas came soon after the second operation. Imagine Poufia’s joy as he witnessed the excitement Christmas brings for the first time in a decade. He received gifts, but for Poufia no gift compared with the return of his sight.
Because someone in New Zealand had given $50 to The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. For Poufia’s family, Christmas 2019 was very special too. Their greatest gift was to have the head of their family amongst them, back to his old self, dignified, sharing, happy, laughing. To them this was a gift beyond imagining, yet in truth it cost so little.
You may say others whose sight was restored last year would have felt the same. Perhaps so, but there is a poignancy to this story. This was Poufia’s last Christmas, he died earlier this year.
The gift you gave him, his last Christmas, was even more precious for that.
As Christmas approaches, we ask would you please donate, so another person and another extended family receive a gift like this next Christmas. In a world where good deeds are needed more than ever, few equal giving someone their sight back.