The young mother had been discarded by her husband. Disgusted that a firewood accident had taken her sight, he had no use for her. She could not work in the fields or manage cooking, and even caring for her baby was near- impossible. She was worth nothing to him. With a five-year-old son also depending on her, she moved in with her widowed mother. She managed to do a little farm work, partnering with another woman. Together, the two Maasai women earned $80 during the harvest season in northern Tanzania.
Twenty-five-year-old Nongota Tindi’s life had become almost unbearable. With her former husband, she was accustomed to the struggles of poverty. Now blindness made it even harder to feed herself and her children. Then she learned of a distant clinic offering medical eye care. With a glimmer of desperate hope, she arrived at Olmoti Clinic on a motorbike driven by her brother.
Nongota was shockingly skinny. Pulling back the cloth wrapped around her, she revealed a tiny, barely visible, seven-month-old baby. Mother and child, both severely malnourished, were given food at the clinic, and rice, sugar and maize to take home. But first, Dr. Richard Nkambi examined Nongota’s eyes. She was congenitally blind in one; a smoldering firewood stick had cost her sight in the other.
Dr. Nkambi determined that the congenital blindness was irreversible, but a fairly routine surgery might restore sight to the other eye. He arranged for the procedure at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi, which would send a transport to carry Nongota on the 90-mile journey, along with 11 other surgery patients referred by Dr. Nkambi. Olmoti Clinic would pay the hospital costs — $20 per person.
Three days after the procedure at KCMC, Nongota opened her eyes to a new world.
“Thank you! God bless you!” Now sighted and healthy, Nongota was overwhelmed to see Dr. Nkambi the following year, and to meet Olmoti Clinic co-founder Diane Raleigh, who had been at the clinic when she first arrived on the motorbike. They had tracked her down after Diane, unable to forget her, decided to find out how the young woman had fared. Nongota’s wide smile told the story of her transformation as she chatted outside the remote boma where she lived with her sister, mother and children.
“I was shocked when I was blind, and I thought my life was over,” she told them. “Now my life is changed. I’m so happy I can do the activities of everyday women.” She was again working in the fields for pay. She remained poor but could provide a little more for her children to eat. Restoration of her sight left her happier and healthier.
Nongota embraced Diane and repeated her thanks.