ALLAH UDDIN, 70, is a Muslim man living and working in rural North-Central India. He travelled an hour from his village, Paunthiya, to reach the SSSST outreach camp in Dhata. By trade, he is a shepherd.
It’s hard not to chuckle when Allah Uddin tells his story with a sheepish, boy-like grin. At times, it’s downright funny, and even Allah has to laugh. He is, in fact, a real-life shephard by trade, and its the only work he’s ever known. He began his career tending only his only herd (generally buffalo, sheep or goats), but over time as his level of expertise grew, so did his reputation. Others began to ask him to tend their herds. Allah saw his neighbor’s trust as a mark of accomplishment, and it made him feel good.
Allah is the father of 3 children, all day-laborers at local mills or factories, and like so many families in rural India, he lives on a modest income. Subsistence is generally day to day. When times are good, they’re good. And when they’re not, they’re not.
It was nearly 15 years ago when Allah first noticed a problem with his vision. At the time, things were pretty good. He had the resources required to seek medical attention, and when he was eventually diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes, he had the means to have one of them surgically removed.
Over the next few years, however, the cataract he could not afford to treat continued to worsen, eventually compromising his vision so substantially, it began to take its toll on his work.
"I’m a shephard and I started to lose my goats". Allah says this with both a grimace and a grin.
For nearly a decade, he did his best to compensate for a growing lack of vision, and worked hard to hide his declining capabilities. He knew, however, he had a serious problem. His vision was taking its toll on his ability to support his family, and the resulting mistakes he made were costly, making it difficult to save the funds required to remedy the problem. Allah was caught in a Catch 22.
Assuming surgery was only an option for those who could afford it (as he had once been modestly able to do), Allah never sought treatment, and for 10 years, his business dropped as a result. While not entirely blinded in both eyes, his right eye became so clouded, he could only see shapes and blurred images, seriously effecting his ability to track a quick moving herd.
It wasn’t until he learned from fellow villagers about an SSSST/HMS outreach camp one hour from his home that Allah began to hold hope for having his vision restored. He learned he might be eligible for services, and that it was possible the services would be available for free. He promptly made arrangements to attend the screening, and as expected, the camp optometrist cleared Allah for surgery.
After a 70 km journey to the hospital in Chitrakoot, Allah arrived with great anticipation, having a good sense of what to expect, and feeling grateful for the opportunity. His surgery was successful and his recovery was prompt.
When asked what he plans to do upon his return to work, he says with a familiar boyish smile:
"Now, I’ll really keep an eye on all my goats!".