When small ripples
make big waves

In a village in Malawi live Wilson, Ganizani and Alice.
Theirs is a story that shows how the impact of one eye operation can spread through an entire community, changing lives as it goes.

A simple monochrome line-drawn illustration showing separate images of Wilson, Ganizani and Alice.
The sun shines at a rural health centre in Malawi: the brick building is surrounded by trees, with people milling about outside.
A simple line-drawn monochrome illustration of Wilson smiling broadly.
The illustration of Wilson changes to a full-colour photo, showing his bright smile.

In the beginning

It all started with Wilson, a family man and football fan who had been struggling with deteriorating sight for a while. Some of his children and grandchildren were missing school to stay home and help him, and this weighed heavily on him.

“My sight was very difficult,” he says. “I couldn’t see clearly – I could only see things that were close. It was a big challenge; my life was affected because I couldn’t do anything at home.”

A mobile health worker visiting the community advised Wilson he should be seen by a doctor, to see if his sight could be improved. And this is how Wilson came to meet Rex Bwanausi, who travels the Chikwawa region, where Wilson lives, to help people access eye care.

“When I met Mr Bwanausi, he raised two fingers and I said I couldn’t see them,” Wilson says. Rex examined Wilson’s eyes, diagnosed cataracts and advised him he could be referred for surgery. Wilson was overjoyed at the news.

“When I heard about the operation, I felt so good in my heart! I received this with two hands.”

A life transformed

“When they did the operation, I could see clearly. Now even if someone is far, I can see them. Since I got better, all of my work is back on track. I’m going to the farm without any problem.”

Best of all, the children in Wilson’s family stopped having to miss school, and he has even been able to help his grandchildren with their homework, something he prides himself on.

The impact of the surgery on every area of Wilson's life – his work, his home, his family – was so transformative that he became a passionate advocate for eye health in his community, and he encourages everyone with eye issues to seek help.

“When I saw the goodness I had been done, I didn’t want to keep it to myself. So I told other people what I had seen.”
Wilson sits outside his home with one of his children, reading a book with them.

One of the people that Wilson told about his eye surgery was his neighbour, Ganizani.

Wilson and Ganizani sit on the ground outside in the village, deep in conversation.
A simple line-drawn illustration of Ganizani.
The illustration changes into a full-colour image, showing Ganizani smiling after his eye treatment.

From Wilson to Ganizani

The patriarch of a large family, with six children and 28 grandchildren, Ganizani had been hugely affected by his visual impairment. Cataracts had severely limited his independence: his wife, Dayilesi, had to take on all the farming duties, sometimes locking Ganizani in the house while she was gone so he’d stay safe.  

“My life was not okay, he says. I was just sitting on the veranda, not farming. I was blind for five years.” But when Wilson spoke to Ganizani, it was a life-changing moment.

He told me about Bwanausi, the doctor in Chikwawa. There was no fear. I said I will go to the hospital to see: maybe I will be rescued.”
Ganizani looks sombre as he recounts his story.

Spreading the word

Dayilesi went with Ganizani to the hospital, where he spent a night after having his first eye operation. He returned three weeks later for surgery on his other eye. “The following day, I saw words written on the veranda,” Ganizani says. “The doctor said: ‘What do you see? Do you see me?’ I said: ‘Yes’.

“They told me to read the letters on the wall at the hospital. I started reading ‘A, E, I, O, U’. All of a sudden, I started to see. Now I can see brightness in my eyes – I can see properly. My heart is very happy. My life has changed very much.”

After leaving the hospital, Ganizani visited Wilson and thanked him for everything, saying: “For me to see the way, it’s because of you.” Ganizani joined Wilson in his efforts to spread the message to more community members.

“At first, people were afraid. But when they saw me, it inspired them. After my operation, people came to witness my vision. I told them not to be afraid and not to delay.”

Ganizani’s enthusiasm for sharing his story with people in his community reached his neighbour, Alice.

Wilson, Ganizani and Alice sit outside in the village having a discussion. Alice is preparing food in a pot over an open fire.
A simple line-drawn illustration of Alice smiling.
The illustration changes into a full-colour photo, showing her beaming smile.

From Ganizani to Alice

“I heard about the eye specialists from Mr Ganizani,” Alice says. “I used to have difficulties seeing whenever night fell. My condition worsened with time and I was failing to do anything on my own. I would sit in one place waiting for someone to cook and do everything for me.”

Wilson also advised Alice to go to Chikwawa hospital for help. On Wilson and Ganizani’s recommendation, Alice’s son took her to the hospital.

Alice outside her home.
“Some people said if I dare go for surgery, my eyes will never see again. But Ganizani and Wilson assured me that the process is so helpful.”

Restoring independence

Alice had two successful operations on her eyes. “The first thing I saw after the operation was the light,” she says. “Then I looked down and saw soil. I told my son that I am now able to see clearly!

“After my sight was restored, my life has changed a lot. I am now able to do things on my own. I can fetch water, cook food and even walk to the market. I was failing to walk, cook, bath, visit the toilet and even go to markets and other gatherings. Now, all that is history.”

Alice smiles at one of her family members, who holds a protective arm around her.
“To someone who is experiencing the eye problem I had, I would tell them not to be afraid. I will encourage them to visit the hospital, and their sight will be restored.”

But the story doesn’t end there.

Seeing the bigger picture

Wilson, Ganizani and Alice may have their sight back, but there are other challenges to overcome.

Life in the community is not easy, and there are many hurdles they face, not least the impact of climate change. In recent months flooding has caused death and devastation throughout the region, and Alice in particular is struggling: she lost her house and possessions, and barely escaped with her life. But by tackling treatable eye conditions such as cataracts, it means there’s one less challenge causing hardship for the people who live here.

The impact of eye health on this community has been immeasurable. The ripple effect, from Wilson to Ganizani to Alice, has radiated further, as each of them spreads the word to friends and neighbours that eye issues can be successfully treated. Wilson has helped about 30 people seek treatment so far, and Ganizani has encouraged at least seven others.

The impact of good eye health goes beyond restoring sight. It has enabled adults to regain their income and independence, it has ensured children no longer need to miss school, and it has allowed the community to dispel fears and false rumours about eye surgery.

It has also created a bond between Wilson, Ganizani and Alice, who were once just passing acquaintances. They are now firm friends, working together to make sure everyone in the community who needs eye care knows where and how to find it.

Learn more about the Eye Health Equals campaign, Sightsavers’ ambitious vision to ensure that the eye care needs of people like Wilson, Ganizani and Alice are met.

A simple illustration showing separate images of Wilson, Ganizani and Alice.
The illustration changes into full-colour photos, showing Wilson, Ganizani and Alice smiling.