Sunday, Oct 17

Saving the eyesight of Ormoc locals

August 03, 2018 | Jushua Marga

For more than a year, Rowena Gullena could only imagine how her son looks like. She was blinded by cataracts after she gave birth to him. Seeing his son now, she burst in tears of happiness.【Photo by Jushua Marga】

Story Highlights

  • Among the patients who benefitted from Tzu Chi Foundation’s eye mission in Ormoc are mothers who suffered from cataracts and pterygium for years. The free surgeries brought light back into their lives and in their families.


Filipinos have a popular saying that goes like this: “the mother is the light of the home,” owing to the fact that the mother’s presence illuminates a family. But what happens when the family’s light source suddenly flickers and eventually dims?

In 2009, Rowena Gullena experienced a slight blurriness of vision. Thinking it was nothing serious, she ignored it and went about her chores. Eight years later, after giving birth to her ninth son, she completely lost her eyesight.  Her son is now two years old but Rowena has no idea what he looks like.

Along with agony of missing the chance to see her son grow up, Rowena is also consumed with guilt for not being able to perform her duties as a mother. Since losing her eyesight, she had not been able to take care of her children. She also finds it hard to do the household chores.

“I have broken a lot of glasses because I cannot see at all,” Rowena sadly says.  

It was also hard for her family to see her suffer.

Rowena wants to have her eyesight restored. She hopes to teach her children with their school lessons and to see their faces. However, they could not afford the cost of a cataract surgery.

Pedro, Rowena’s husband, is a construction worker. Rowena, with the help of her children, earns PHP175 daily from sweeping their village streets.

Tzu Chi’s free eye mission in Ormoc on August 2 and 3 is therefore a blessing to the family.

“We cannot afford to bring her to another city for an operation because it is very expensive,” says Pedro.

After the surgery, Rowena could not hold back her tears. Finally, she can see clearly again!

“I will be able to take care of my children and guide them in growing up so they will know what’s right from wrong,” says Rowena. “Thank you, Tzu Chi for helping me and my family thank you so much.”

Another parent who received free operation during the two-day eye mission is Praxides Heorpo.

A single parent, Praxides works double. Apart from laboring at a nearby sugarcane farm, she is also a village street sweeper.

“My children are very important to me. I work so hard so that they could go to school, finish their studies, and not experience the hardships that I have experienced in the past,” Praxides says.

However, due to constant exposure to the sun, her eye condition deteriorated. Pterygium, or a triangular tissue growth, has almost covered most of Praxides’ left eye.

Seeing Praxides came out of the operating room after her surgery on August 3, her niece Emelyn Formentera broke down crying.

“I am so happy for her. My aunt plays the role of both mother and father to her family. I am thankful [that she had undergone free surgery] because I cannot imagine how her family would live had she became completely blind,” says Emelyn.

Meanwhile, Praxides is thankful to Tzu Chi for helping her in her most difficult situations. She remembers how the Buddhist charity group had extended assistance to her family in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. Almost five years later, the same group brought back the light in her family’s life.

“I thank the Lord and Tzu Chi and the volunteers because they have helped a lot, not only me but also my people here who are poor and seeking medical help,” Praxedes says, smiling.

The eye mission in Ormoc only ran for two days, but its impact in the lives of the patients it has helped will last a lifetime.

  • Rowena Gullena could not hold back her tears after her successful cataract operation. After more than a year of being blind, her vision is finally restored. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Volunteers are happy with the outcome of Rowena Gullena’s cataract operation. As they hand the medicines to Rowena, the volunteers wish her the best. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Post operation care of patients is important in Tzu Chi. To ensure the patient's full recovery, Tzu Chi volunteers instruct Rowena Gullena's daughters on the proper way of caring for their mother, including how to properly administer the eye drops. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Fresh hope and a promise of a better tomorrow - this is what the wearing of the protective eye glasses after the surgery symbolizes to Rowena Gullena. Living in almost total darkness, restoring her vision is almost like a rebirth to her. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Assisted by volunteers, Rowena Gullena went home happily after the surgery. Once again, she is able to see the faces of her neighbors and the beauty of her neighborhood. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • The suffering of Praxides Heorpo caused by the pterygium on her left eye will finally come to an end as Tzu Chi volunteers prepare her for her surgery. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Alongside other patients, Praxides Heorpo (second from right) patiently waits for her turn inside the operating room. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Along with another patient, Praxides Heorpo waits outside the operating room. Behind the door is their chance of living a more normal life. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • A Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) doctor assists Praxides Heorpo get settled in the operating bed. Pterygium operations usually take 15 minutes but Praxides' “kissing pterygium," lasted eight minutes more. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Praxides Heorpo is all smiles as Tzu Chi volunteers assist the single parent in going home. As the breadwinner, having her eyes fixed for free means a lot to the family. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Praxedes Heorpo's face radiates with gratitude for the loving care from Tzu Chi volunteers. With her pterygium now gone, she can work more effectively to support her children’s education. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Emelyn Formentera’s tears began falling as soon as she sees her aunt after the successful operation. She knows how her aunt had suffered because of the pterygium. Emelyn’s tears are of happiness and gratitude. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Praxides Heorpo and Emelyn Formentera have known about Tzu Chi Foundation since the Buddhist group held relief distributions in the countryside of Ormoc after Super Typhoon (Haiyan) Yolanda in 2013. This time, they are grateful that the same organization had helped bring back the vision of Praxides.【Photo by Jushua Marga】

  • Volunteers assist the patients to the operating room. Soon after the operation, Rowena will never walk in the same dark hallway again. 【Photo by Jushua Marga】


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  • LAST UPDATED: September 20, 2018 10:09 AM