To See and Be Seen

My paternal grandmother, (deceased in 2018 at age 84) lived with diabetes, failing eyesight and decreasing mobility. In her final years, my parents opted to move her in and become full-time caregivers—an exemplary commitment that they did not hesitate to make.

I carried my family’s story with me while on assignment for Photographers Without Borders in The Gambia, West Africa in 2017. In traditional Gambian society, older persons were cared for by family members; in an unprecedented shift, they are increasingly left to care for themselves, especially in rural and impoverished communities. 

The Gambia has seen a startling rise in cases of cataracts and glaucoma. While new facilities have been constructed to address the growing crisis, they are difficult to access, and treatment options are prohibitively expensive. Limited resources render many permanently blind.

I embedded with the Sheikh Zayed Regional Eye Care Centre and the Ageing With a Smile Initiative’s medical team. Launched in 2010, ASI is a community-based organization that “focuses on the prevention of non-communicable diseases such as eye problems.” Crucially, ASI strives for proper—and timely—diagnoses of vision loss, and refers clients who need emergency eye surgery.

My documentary practice is deeply committed to humanitarian issues. These photographs helped ASI to secure a place under the aegis of HelpAge International, “a global network of organizations promoting the right of all older people to lead dignified, healthy and secure lives.” My visual storytelling communicated ASI’s vision and concretized their mandate.

In the vulnerability of The Gambia’s elderly, I see my grandmother’s, and I foresee my own.

On assignment for Photographers Without Borders

June 2017

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