Seven-year-old Leonides was in a hopeless situation. Living in poverty-stricken Burundi, he faced a lifetime of blindness in a country with little access to health care or support for those with vision-impairment.
Leo couldn’t go to school, he couldn’t participate in village life, and he was becoming angry and withdrawn. His blindness had been severe for two years and, as his cataracts worsened, his vision became so clouded that all he could do was sit inside his house all day - sometimes kicking the wall in frustration.
Watch Leo’s story and transformation
Childhood blindness in developing countries
isn’t as common as adult blindness, but there are still many instances of hereditary, juvenile or inherited diseases that can cause vison loss or blindness in the early years.
If a child has a treatable case in a developed country, they can usually be dealt with before their vision is permanently damaged. But many children live in places where health systems and support don’t exist.
It’s here where blindness has a devastating ripple effect as these children can’t participate in their communities or receive an education. Their families are further trapped in a cycle of poverty, and sometimes – tragically – these children are abandoned.
It’s donations that help these children survive.
Dr Levi Kandeke, the only paediatric eye surgeon in Burundi, was fearful for Leo’s sight. He considers every child who is blind a medical emergency. If sight isn’t restored by about the age of 10, the lack of normal visual stimulation limits the brain’s ability to ever process visual stimuli. The tragedy is how few children in Burundi will get help
Saving Leo’s sight
Fortunately for Leo, his devoted mother Juliette trekked for a whole day so that she could seek help for Leo at one of The Foundation’s clinics in Burundi. Despite the heartbreaking situation she faced with her son, she held on to the belief that his eyes could be saved.
The Foundation rushed Leo to Dr Levi so that his cataracts could be operated on and he may have the chance to see again.
What we're doing is giving these people the chance to help themselves. We are giving them independence.
- Fred Hollows
After a long surgery, Leo’s cataracts were removed. When the patches that nearly covered his face were gently pulled off, he blinked slowly, his light perception already improving minutes after the operation. A small, uncertain smile played on his face.
By the time Leo returned to the village, it was clear he was able to see. A celebratory mood swept over the whole village and Juliette could only clap and sing in grateful amazement.
Watch the reaction of Leo’s village here
Just like Fred Hollows, Juliette never gave up and neither will The Foundation. We’ll continue to help many children like Leo, but our work is only possible with the support of people like you.
The more we support children like Leo, the less devastation there is due to childhood blindness.
If you could see him like in one year time you won’t believe… he’s going to be much bigger and…he will be in the school… he had a big chance to being discovered by Fred Hollows.
- Dr Levi Kandeke