The following story was written by Catherine Clarke Murphy and is unaltered in its presentation here.
Fodé had been living in quiet isolation for more than a year when the Africa Mercy hospital ship arrived in Conakry, Guinea. Fodé is deaf and mute from a childhood illness; when he began to lose his eyesight to bilateral cataracts almost two years ago, he grieved for the loss of his only remaining means of communication.
According to the World Health Organization, cataracts are the leading cause of visual impairment worldwide in developing countries where surgical treatment is inaccessible. In subSaharan Africa, there is approximately one ophthalmologist for every 1 million people. (Source: Vision 2020). Therefore, Fodé had little hope for any medical assistance.
Fodé is 45 years old and is married to Hawa, who is also deaf and mute. They met as students at L’Ecole des Ourdes, the school for the deaf in Conakry. The first time Fodé saw Hawa, he knew that he loved her. He wrote a love letter to her, and shortly thereafter they were married.
For anyone to lose his or her eyesight to cataracts is a tragedy. But for Fodé, losing his eyesight meant losing his livelihood, as well as his ability to read, write, communicate and take care of himself. He was unable to go anywhere alone and required a constant caretaker. Hawa, along with his brothers and sisters, shared the responsibility of taking care of him. The family developed a unique signing method by moving their hands on Fodé’s chest – human touch was his last way to express himself.
When Mercy Ships arrived in Conakry, Fodé’s family began to hope – a surgery to repair Fodé’s eyesight was a reality that his family had never considered possible. When he arrived for screening, Fodé was guided by his brother. The two men slid their hands over each other’s chests in a practiced form, communicating with the unique series of hand movements only they could understand. From English to French to sign language, a message was communicated to Fodé – Mercy Ships could help. “Our entire family is blessed,” his sisters said. “Everyone in the whole family is smiling because Fodé will see.”
Because of her own handicap, Hawa did not come for Fodé’s follow-up appointment after his surgery. She waited at home for her husband, and Fodé was accompanied by his two sisters instead. When the bandages came off, Fodé blinked cautiously as the world around him came into focus. Then he brought his hands to his face and cried tears of happiness and relief. He has been released from the prison of dark isolation that confined him for the past 18 months.
And, of course, his wonderfully supportive family rejoiced! “Now Fodé is happy,” his sister said, “because he can go home and see his wife again.”
Written by: Catherine Clarke Murphy
Edited by: Nancy Predaina
Photographs by: Debra Bell and Catherine Clarke Murphy