It Takes a (Global) Village

“He could not stop smiling and touching things because he could now see.”

 “He is full of beans again and so interested in the world around him. He constantly asks questions about everything as the world has again opened up to him with being able to see.”

These are the words used to describe a boy who has just regained his eyesight.

Luviwe Thomas was just a few years old when he started developing a problem with his eyes – by the time he was four it had become very serious. A normally cheerful and social boy, he became withdrawn and anxious; he could no longer play with his friends without falling or knocking himself.

With the help of the Beal-Preston family, who have known Luviwe since he was a baby, his parents took him to an optometrist who diagnosed Luviwe with congenital cataracts; fortunately a condition that can be fixed. They then tried to access the state healthcare system for Luviwe to be treated, both in Queenstown and in East London, but to no avail. With those avenues exhausted the Beal-Preston’s decided to take Luviwe to a private specialist to look at what options were available. With bi-lateral cataracts (cataracts in both eyes) that had grown to the point that they were blinding him, it was clear that Luviwe needed an operation and fast if it was to not have an irretrievable effect on him.

To remove the cataract from one eye would normally cost R18 000 – and Luviwe needed cataracts removed from both eyes. Very kindly, Dr Cook, the specialist, reduced his fee to just cover the costs of the operation at R15 000 for both eyes – a sum that however was still too high for his parents.

Luviwe’s parents had separated recently and Luviwe had moved to Whittlesea with his mother, Zimkhitha, where they live off a social grant – an income that barely covers the costs of living. Akhona, Luviwe’s father, had remained on the Beal-Prestons farm, where he is working as a labourer and contributes to Luviwe’s living costs, but with no medical aid or savings of any kind, their only chance would have been through the state healthcare. At the best of times, health services are difficult to access in the Eastern Cape, with those living in rural areas having to travel large distances to get more specialised treatment in cities such as East London. This had become even harder under the present circumstances and logistical costs alone would have been too prohibitive without assistance from the Beal-Prestons.

It was at this point that Trish Beal-Preston began approaching people in her network to raise funds for the private operation at the Eye Clinic in East London, including Samara Foundation. Within two days a response came: two private donors had stepped forward to cover Luviwe’s operation costs.

Ulrich Feiter, and a friend from Germany, both involved in the Eastern Cape and the early childhood development projects run there by Samara, were touched by Luviwe’s situation and decided that they would help in their personal capacity. And so without any bureaucratic delays or challenges, a little boy could have the operation that gave him back his eyesight.

Luviwe Thomas successfully underwent his operation on 23 June, with his mother, Zimkhitha, and Trish by his side.

“The East London Eye Clinic was amazing and everyone looked after us and showed us so much care and kindness. I have been so overwhelmed by the goodness and generosity of people. Everyone has made such a contribution to giving a little boy the gift of his sight back,” says Trish. And this also includes the Beal-Preston family who have been there every step of the way.

Luviwe’s parents have also been overwhelmed by the acts of strangers to give their son back his eyesight. “No words can explain the amount of gratitude I feel,” says Zimkhitha. 

In this case the African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”, takes on a new, global meaning.