“I can count your fingers!” Sun Seang said to the nurse. “It’s clearer than before”.

Seang has just undergone cataract surgery at Siem Reap Regional Hospital, Cambodia. Her smile is infectious as she realises she can see again.

Like many in the Siam Reap region, Seang was a farmer. She harvested potatoes but had to stop working when she went partially blind two years ago.

As her vision deteriorated, Seang’s daughter Pherm Pisey moved back home to care for her and take over the farming duties; a clear indication of the impact that avoidable blindness can cause. Seang is only 44-years-old.

Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the Siem Reap region, and, since the hospital began working with The Fred Hollows Foundation in 2008, more than 9,000 people have received cataract surgery at the facility.

The project has several objectives, including research to produce better eye care plans; advocacy to raise awareness for eye health and ensure funding is available; and training to increase the number of doctors, nurses and health professionals. People like Pen Sarith.

Pen Sarith is an ophthalmic nurse. He guides patients around the ward as they heal and he has the privilege of removing their patches, watching them see clearly for the first time in years.

“The people who come for surgery have to spend one to two days in hospital, and I am very happy to do my best to help them,” he said.

But it is a demanding job given that Pen Sarith is one of only eight ophthalmic nurses at the hospital.

Since eye services were established at the hospital with the support of The Foundation and the Australian Government, the hospital has grown in its capacity to deliver much needed eye health care to its catchment of more than two million people.

It now provides more than 1,900 surgeries per year and conducts regular eye screening outreaches to remote communities in the Siem Reap region.

The need is so great that the hospital needs to employ six more ophthalmic nurses like Sarith, along with another two ophthalmologists and two refraction nurses.

Training is a key component to ensuring a strong health system. And it is another way The Foundation has provided much-needed assistance.

“I came from being a general nurse to an ophthalmic nurse,” Sarith said, referring to the specialist training he received from The Fred Hollows Foundation in 2001.

“Initially it was a little bit challenging, but through training and work, I became more familiar and confident treating eye surgery patients,” he said.

And, the surgical team who operated on Seang were sponsored by The Fred Hollows Foundation.

“Because of you, I can see the people around me. I would like to say thank you for all your support. Thank you!” she said.

Meanwhile, Pen Sarith will continue helping patients as he has done throughout Siem Reap for the past 36 years. “This is my duty,” he says proudly.