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Pratima’s story

As the waves roll in on the Bakkhali beach in Namkhana in South 24 Parganas, 60 year old Pratima Sikdar sprints to pick up four chairs and the big umbrella shade over them. She places them at another location on the shore where the water hasn’t reached yet. She does this while also maintaining a watchful eye over her remaining property, another 36 chairs. Every day, she shifts the chairs and umbrellas countless times to keep them at prime spots on the shore, but beyond the reach of the water. Pratima earns 50 rupees per hour by renting out four chairs and the umbrella shades. It is hard work and it keeps her on her toes. Her income is erratic, though it does get better in the winter tourist season. Nonetheless, it ensures that she can take care of herself and contribute a bit to her son’s family. “He is a fisherman. But there is no guarantee he will earn regularly. I have two granddaughters. I want them to study and… you know how expensive education is,” shares Pratima who could only study till class II herself.

Her ability to take care of herself and her family was jeopardised two years back when a cataract developed in her left eye. She could not see clearly. Some neighbours suggested names of doctors. But Pratima remained unsure. Moreover, she felt that she could still manage. But then she started having problems with her right eye as well. “I could not even see what was in front of me and then everything became black. I was so helpless. I couldn’t work,” she shares. “If she (pointing out to the local health worker associated with the project) had not taken me for the operations, my world would have remained dark,” she adds. A man who ran a salon nearby, and had earlier benefited from the Sightsavers supported initiative in the Sundarbans, informed the health worker of the available services. He had undergone a cataract surgery himself.

Pratima underwent cataract surgery on both her eyes during February-March 2015. She had to stay at the base hospital for two nights on both the occasions. The hospital is managed by the local partner organisation with specialised support from Sightsavers. She shares that she was pleasantly surprised by the concern and affection with which she was treated. “All of them called me dida (grandmother) and they behaved very well,” she states. Her daughter in law and daughter (who lives close by since the death of her husband) ensured that she rested. “It was because they took care of me then, I could get back to work after that,” she says.

Since then, she has told many people about the local Vision Centre and the hospital managed under the Sundarbans Eye Health Services Strengthening project. “Many have got operations done as well. Nobody has ever reported any problem,” she says with a smile. Besides saving her eyesight, Pratima feels that the project has also given her a chance to meet people and forge new bonds. “I have a new granddaughter now. She always asks me how I am doing,” she says with a smile referring to the local health worker. In a life marked by constant struggle and very few friendships, this has been a significant gain as well.

 

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