My Wish for International Day of Happiness

Mar 21, 2016

By: Heather Haines, Director, External Relations

I’m going to let you in on a secret. With every candle extinguished, every coin tossed in a fountain, each errant eyelash, I have—for as long as I can remember--wished for one thing: to always be happy. With Sunday’s International Day of Happiness on everyone’s mind, I can finally share that deeply-held secret—and wish it for so many others. Let me explain why.

Over the years, eyesight is something I’ve taken for granted. While my vision is admittedly terrible, with (mostly) regular visits to the optometrist, it’s never been much of an issue. During a recent work trip, however, the vision in my left eye became blurry. And then, my right one, as if shrouded in Saran Wrap. Chalking it up to stress, travel, exhaustion, and high altitude, I embarked on what would be a long series of doctor’s visits and frantic internet searches. 

Because of my impaired vision, I stopped driving, gave up Zumba, and repeatedly got lost in New York as I couldn’t read the street signs. A political cartoon exhibition was made far less entertaining as my husband had to translate every frame, as were the movies I had once enjoyed so immensely. Novels became too difficult to read. Things that once brought me such joy were now put on hold.

While a frustrating, mystifying situation, I still had much to be grateful for. A fantastic doctor a mere subway ride away. Access to medicines, well stocked pharmacies, clean water, and soap. Health insurance to cover all of the above. And while I’m hugely thankful for these things, it wasn’t until the introduction of a “corneal bandage” that my sympathy morphed into true empathy for those with eye issues. This opaque bandage sits firmly around the cornea, secured in place by a plastic ring. As my doctor inserted the device, he described the odds of success; that I should try to tolerate it for 24 hours, with 72 hours being the ideal. “I can do this,” I assured him (and myself), requesting an immediate infusion of Ibuprofen.

And it was painful. What kept me going—aided by a steady stream of donut and cupcake deliveries by sympathetic friends—was that it was only 72 hours. I thought of those people suffering with trachoma—the constant, unrelenting scratching of eyelashes against corneas—for years. These people not only lose their hobbies, interests, and small daily pleasures as I have, but their jobs are impacted and livelihoods lost as they cope with vision loss and perpetual pain. While their suffering that can be relieved through a 15-minute surgery that requires no electricity and can be performed for about $40 USD, the backlog of surgeries is long and the access to skilled practitioners limited. 72 hours, in comparison, was absolutely nothing.

I’m fortunate to work in a place—the END Fund—that recognizes how little it can take to do such remarkable good. Through partnerships with ministries of health and INGOs; with water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs being implemented in schools and communities; and donated drugs being distributed to those in need; the END Fund is helping to realize a world free of such debilitating diseases as trachoma and river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis.

I cheered at the end of my three day stretch when the corneal bandage was plucked out, and while my vision isn’t perfect, it’s steadily improving. So, on this year’s International Day of Happiness, I enthusiastically signed on to “try to create more happiness in the world around me”--whether designing events to bring awareness of NTDs to new communities or climbing Kilimanjaro to raise funds to fight these diseases. Through my efforts at the END Fund, in my own small but steady way, I hope to impart my not-so-secret wish to those suffering with trachoma and river blindness, as well as other debilitating diseases of neglect: That, through improved health and access to services, they may find renewed hope--and continued happiness.


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