Sitting in a makeshift classroom in the back of her house, nine-year-old Monique waited in darkness, listening intently to the sound of her grandmother’s voice going over the day’s lesson. She was homeschooled for the past three years due to severe cataracts, and had to withdraw from school because of her blindness.
Monique enjoyed attending school with her friends before she started struggling to read and write. Her grandmother, Melone, believed she was misbehaving and not paying attention in class. “I would look at her school book and it was all just scribbles!” said Melone. “I thought she was pretending. I would tell her off and she would be in trouble.”
The shy little girl she never once disclosed that the world around her was fading, leaving her teachers and family to believe she simply wasn’t trying. After a while, Melone felt there was more behind her granddaughter’s behavior. One day, she dropped her keys on the floor and asked Monique to pick them up. As she fumbled around, feeling her way across the floor, Melone realized Monique’s sight was not all it seemed.
Despite looking forward to her retirement after more than 40 years of teaching, Melone homeschooled Monique to ensure she didn’t fall too far behind. “I would not accept that my own granddaughter would not have an education — her best chance at a future.”
Any money Melone managed to save was put aside for the chance to give her young granddaughter surgery. “I promised myself that no matter what it took, I would get enough money together because I wanted so badly for her to have a future,” Melone said.
After three and a half years of saving, Melone managed to save up enough for a deposit for a surgery that would leave her in severe debt. But, before she had a chance to arrange the procedure, Mercy Ships sailed into Cameroon, and hope filled her heart.
After a visit to the screening site, Monique was accepted for surgery and made her way to the Africa Mercy for a 20-minute operation that changed her life. The morning after her surgery, her eye patches were slowly lifted as the room held its breath in anticipation. Suddenly, life filled her eyes as she scoured the room looking at all the things she’d missed over the past three years, including her beloved grandmother.
“I see everything!” Monique cried, “I see it all!” Her bright-eyed gaze quickly darted in every direction as if she couldn’t take it all in fast enough, pointing at everything. Melone looked on with a smile, tears filling her own eyes.
A little over two weeks later, Monique packed her backpack and proudly donned her uniform ready for her first day back at school. Eagerly waiting to be escorted, she ushered her grandmother out of the door. “If she was any more excited, she’d lift up and start flying,” laughed Melone.
As they approached the classroom, they were greeted by the same teacher who recalled three years earlier when Monique was asked to leave school. “I remember when she left — it was a sad day. I am so pleased to see her back, because it is my wish as a teacher to see her get a good education.”
The gift of sight restored Monique’s brave personality, and thanks to her grandmother’s homeschooling, she boldly approached the front of the class to read and write in front of her peers. She had not given up the fight.
“Some people say with sympathy, ‘Look at those poor blind people’,” said volunteer Ophthalmic Surgeon Dr. Glenn Strauss. “But, I’ve never met people as courageous as those who are blind. Like Monique, they make their way up our gangway with the hope of being healed.”
Some may have seen Monique as a victim — a little girl who had lost her sight and almost her education. But Mercy Ships saw the fearless little girl inside her, and gave her a chance to see and be seen.
“Every time I thought about Monique’s blindness it saddened me, because I love her so dearly,” said Melone. “Since she has had the surgery, everything is possible. She has been given the gift of hope, which is a huge blessing to our lives.”
Written by: Georgia Ainsworth
Photos by: Shawn Thompson and Saul Loubassa Bighonda
Edited by: Karis Johnson